Magalie's story takes place in the Nordic country of Finland. As in any hero's journey, she encounters challenges and setbacks along the way, but ultimately returns home triumphant. She was only 17 the first time she set foot in this Scandinavian land.
"As a teenager I was shy and reserved. I was scared to try new things and I even found sleepovers really hard. With just a couple of years of highschool left, I decided l'd had enough and that I was going to take a big leap to get out of my shell," she says.
At 16, she started searching online and reading forums where people posted about their experiences abroad. "I discovered that travelling overseas was very popular in Europe and the States, but you don't hear much about it in Quebec," she says. After exploring all the possibilities, she decided to try her luck with Youth for Understanding (YFU), an international educational exchange program for students ages 15 to 19.
She filled out applications, went on interviews, wrote letters of interest and met with a representative for her area. "lt's a pretty involved process, but most of these organizations offer scholarships. So I applied. I also had to take on a couple of part-time jobs and make some small sacrifices so I could save up enough money. lt was a lot of work, but it was totally worth it!" says Magalie.
Magalie chose this Nordic country because of her love of winter, language and culture. She was also confident she'd develop a close relationship with her host family.
When she arrived in town, everything was new and exciting--the pace, the routine, the family. But close to the Holidays, in the heart of winter, boredom and homesickness set in.
"But it passed," says Magalie. "And after developing some great friendships and feeling more adventurous than ever, I didn't want to leave anymore!"
She says she came back a changed person, open to the world and much more people-oriented. Her student exchange was such a positive experience that after finishing her cégep, she went back to Finland for a year to work as an au pair. She's been living there ever since with her boyfriend and is pursuing her university education.
- Take a chance! People often said I was lucky--but it wasn't luck. Anyone who wants to can do this. Anything is possible if you're willing to put in the effort.
- Don't look at it as losing a year. Sure, you might be a year behind, but if you think of it as an adventure, you'II see that it's worth it!
- Find out what kind of financial support is available. There are lots of bursaries out there.
- Do your homework. Read up on the country you're interested in. Understanding the differences and similarities between your own country and the one you want to visit will prevent unpleasant surprises, and you'II find that if you learn even a little of the language, you'II have an easier time making friends.
- Give it a chance. lt's not always easy; you have to be patient.
- Communicate: Good communication with your host family is so important.
- Blog. lt's a good way to keep in touch, record memories and share your experience.