17 Oct 2018
Life at ÉTS
Dare to Go Abroad. Come Back Transformed
Nicko Brisebois Gongora holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from ÉTS. As part of his studies, he completed an internship at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and a study session at the University of Hertfordshire.
The header image shows the Grand-Place in Brussels and was provided by the author. The Substance CC license applies.
We have all heard people say that their lives changed after doing a particular study session abroad … that since that time in their lives, they feel different and better. We all have a Facebook friend who would write a long text starting with “Ever since this session in Thailand, I feel like a new person”, accompanied by 293 photos of monkeys, elephants and mountains. In those moments, in the comfort of my living room, I told myself that it was an exaggeration; that having such a special experience in another country wasn’t really enough to change a person. I, for one, went on a one-week all-inclusive trip to Mexico and Cuba and my life had not changed much. Aside from getting a little darker, a little larger and eating something that made me sick, I did not become a “new person”.
But I have to admit that I was curious to find out what made these people so happy and excited … what it was that made my friends who studied abroad return with a joie de vivre that seemed to come out of nowhere, an impressive self-confidence and a sort of intriguing inner peace. Basically, I would sum it up by saying that they came back happy and yes, I must admit, changed. All this was starting to make me envious. In addition to all the questions I had about studying abroad, I had the impression, whenever my friends shared their adventures, that I couldn’t grasp the magnitude of the adventure and emotions they experienced.
To understand this great mystery, I finally took the plunge and I left for an internship in Belgium and a study session in England. That amounts to eight months in countries and cultures about which I knew virtually nothing and knew not a soul. And what was the first thing I said when I came back? I AM A NEW PERSON! Yes, I now find myself on the other side of the fence with the people who went on an adventure, not to mention that I also published hundreds of photos on social media with very long texts filled with love. I can tell you now that it will really change your life and that you should immediately get to work on planning a study abroad. With more than 4.3 million students studying abroad each year, it cannot be that complicated to do, or that boring.
In the beginning, filling out the paperwork to successfully find courses that correspond to those you must follow in your study program is tedious, but getting the visa is even worse. Past this stage, you will have to face the loneliness of the first week. You will find yourself alone in another country with the feeling that no one can help you or understand you. The most interesting part of all this is that you will see that you can get out of these difficulties by yourself. In any case, the loneliness stage never lasts very long. When you travel abroad, you realize that people are nicer than you thought and that making friends is a breeze. It becomes easy because many of us are alone, so we unite. It’s funny, but when you see someone looking at a map written in German and sighing in despair, you sigh with relief and say, “Yes! I am not the only one who is lost.” And there you are, you have just made your first friend.
What an experience like this can bring you is unmeasurable. During these eight months on the other side of the ocean, I met hundreds of people from all over the world. Do you know what that means? I now have a hundred homes where I can stay if I decide to travel again one day. I can also tell you that my English is a lot better now and consists of words other than “yes”, “no” and “toaster”. I perfected my English, but it can be German if you want, or even Italian. You get the feel of the culture of another country, its food, its teaching methods, and so much more. I did a session in an engineering study program on race cars. As far as I know, this program does not exist in Québec and let me tell you that I learned a lot and gained fantastic memories and knowledge.
Leaving for a whole semester breaks the study routine and puts an end to the January blues. It’s four months of pure pleasure. Even going to school becomes exciting. Also, there are parties, and more parties. You travel, make new friends and, who knows, maybe you’ll meet a handsome Italian or a beautiful señorita. If someone is patiently waiting for you here, not to worry: Italians and Spaniards can also become very good friends. You will also realize that you love your home. You will realize all that you have and, at the same time, appreciate all the little joys of life. Taking the right bus without making a mistake can easily become a great feat. You will enjoy freedom like never before. You leave everything behind for one semester, you are with yourself, alone, and that’s when you start discovering who you are, when you get to know You.
During the internship or study session, you may be shocked by the way people live, express themselves, dress and even work. That’s how you become aware of what the word “culture” means. From any culture, there are things that you will take away and others that you will not. These things that you retained are what will make you stand out at your next interview, your next job or your life in general. In England—this may sound silly, but—I learned to have fun. The campus where I was is a world unto itself, a kind of amplifier of positive experiences. Not only did I have fun, but I also learned to be a leader, practice a new sport, live with six roommates, say no, and make time for myself. In Belgium, I learned how to become really resourceful, to better communicate with a physically absent superior, to work in an environment without structure, and adapt to instead of resist change. From a more personal point of view, I learned that no challenge is too big, that it is important to get out of our comfort zone, to let go and live in the now because yesterday will never come back.