Go west, young student

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By Sean Wetselaar

When I was 15, I got the chance to travel to Europe: England and the Netherlands. In England, we stayed with a friend of the family in London. In the Netherlands we spent time in Amsterdam, then visited my family in the Dutch countryside.

I won’t bore you with the details of a trip taken by another priviledged white guy with his irritatingly middle-class family. All I’ll say about it was that it was an amazing chance to see the world.

University is a time to expand your understanding of the world around you and expose yourself to new ideas. And one of the best ways you can do that is by travelling.

Now, I understand that travelling when you’re in university is difficult to fund, and probably an even greater excercise in privilege than my trip in my adolescence. But however you do it — whenever you do it — try to get out there.

It’s easy to read about far-off lands and foreign places, and about globalization and geopolitics. It’s another thing entirely to see some of those places yourself.

There are a bunch of ways you can make this happen — one of them is by going on one of Ryerson’s many exchange programs. I took journalism here, and it’s one of the schools with a formal program to send students abroad to study. One the biggest regrets of my university career was not going.

Exchange is expensive, and difficult to fit into your life. It was those reasons — especially the money — that kept me away. But looking back on the experiences my friends had on exchange, I wish I had done things differently — saved more money, taken more loans — and had a chance to experience those things myself.

Of course nothing is stopping me from travelling now, from saving up money and getting on another plane. I’ve been all across Canada, and through much of the States but since that trip to Europe I’ve never crossed another ocean.

But here’s the rub, kids: you can make travel less expensive than you think it is.

You can make like our features editor, Emma Cosgrove, and hitchhike across the country. You can do what many of my friends did on their cross-continent jaunts and stay in hostels. You can pick up work part-time in some places. If you’re lucky enough to have a job you can do remotely, you can find an internet connection and do it from abroad.

I grew up in a small town in Ontario, and until that trip to England I’d never seen the ocean. The first time I felt the salt air and ocean spray was at the cliffs of Dover. We played The Beatles on the drive down out of London, and watched the gulls wheel lazy circles in a clear, blue sky. It was cheesy as all hell — but it’s a memory that’s going to stick with me.

It takes a lot of planning, and it takes a lot of work if you don’t come from money. But if you’re going to save for anything, let me tell you that seeing this spectacular world that we live in is worth it.

I guess what I’m really saying is that you shouldn’t miss out on your chance to make those kind of memories yourself. I haven’t had nearly the experiences out there in the big world that some of my friends have had. And I can’t wait for a chance to have some.

The bottom line is that seeing the world can be far more educational than school could ever hope to be. So, I don’t care how you finance it, or how you make it happen. But make it happen. Get out there, students of Ryerson. See your own first oceans, climb your own first mountains.

I promise it will be worth it.

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