Semester-end reflections

I’m here! I promise!

Since I flew home just over a week ago, I’ve been spending half of my time catching up with friends and family, and the other half doing schoolwork. Yep, schoolwork. We’re on ‘blocus’ right now, which is our break before exams start in January. I can’t even begin to describe how great it feels to be home. The feeling of security sleeping in my own bed, having my cat and my dog around, being able to drive everywhere. I’ve already gotten myself back into a typical Gillian routine of being at home and it makes me not want to go back to Europe, though I have a lot of exciting plans lined up for the upcoming semester!

Now that I’m home and back in my comfort zone, I’ve been able to really reflect on the last few months.

In August I committed myself to someone, knowing that after I left in September I wouldn’t see him until the following June. It was scary, thinking that the reason why one of your only real (and best) relationships wasn’t going to work was because you were about to leave for ten months. That fear was inevitable, and I feel it every day. But we didn’t give up and we’ve made it work. Four months later, I’ve never been happier and my heart jumps every time I think of him.

I could have thrown myself a goodbye party, but it was completely unnecessary given that I spent my last week at home with some of my favourite people. Frosh Week was one of the most exhausting, exasperating, and rewarding weeks of my life, and it was so surreal to see it come to an end with a flight out of the country.

My life went from a crazy high to a new kind of low. It wasn’t a bad low, however. I started my exchange off with a few days of travel by myself, which previously would terrify me to my core. Not having direct support from anyone around me was something I’ve never experienced. I ate by myself in a fancy restaurant for the first time, and I had some of the best conversation of my life with people from all over the world. I had time to walk around and take photos with no agenda; I was finally able to apply what I knew about photography to my own photos because I had the time. It was a liberating experience, moving at my own pace with nothing and no one weighing me down. And that’s how a person should see the world. I harnessed everything I felt those first few days travelling during my year abroad and I’ve brought it with me everywhere I’ve gone.

✓ Reykjavik
✓ Brussels
✓ Bruges
✓ Barcelona
✓ Antwerp
✓ Prague
✓ Amsterdam
✓ Eastbourne, Brighton, London
✓ Ypres
✓ Paris

I look at that list and I am astounded. Aside from a trip to Scotland when I was eight, this is my first time in Europe. I would have never thought that I’d be fortunate enough to be able to see so many beautiful and inspiring places. What’s even more astounding to me is that this list will likely double itself by the end of next semester!

Travelling aside, I can confidently say that I call Brussels home. It took longer than I imagined it would, but living on a different side of the world takes some getting used to! Probably the biggest surprise for myself and others, though, is that I’ve been less of a social butterfly in Brussels than I have ever been. Ever. This shocked people back home when I told them this, and it was even a surprise to me as I thought I’d be more social then ever while on exchange. (Don’t get me wrong, though, I still go out and I have lots of friends!)

It occurred to me within my first week of living in Brussels that I would have a lot of downtime here. That also surprised people, and they say: “But you’re in Europe!” and “There’s going to be so much to see!” which of course is true! But in Brussels I don’t work 15 hours a week at a pool, or dedicate every spare second of my time to a students’ union or initiatives on campus. I also only have ten hours of class a week at the ULB as opposed to a usual 15+ at Glendon and York. I’ve dedicated some of my spare time to picking up small habits that I should have picked up a long time ago; the kinds of things my parents have always bugged me about but I never did because I didn’t have the time to think about it. Moisturizing my hands and touching up my nails daily, using a desk to do my work instead of laying in bed, and reading.

Yes, I’m reading again. And it feels amazing.

There’s no way to really sum up how first semester went for me. I hate to say it, but a lot of the experience was definitely a “you had to be there” kind of thing. You’ve seen plenty through my blog posts, anyways!

So, with that, I’d love to wish anyone who made it to the end of this post a very Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas! I’m going to leave you with an amazing rendition of a classic Christmas song that blew me away. I’m not one for cheesy holiday music, but this one has been on repeat:

À bientôt!

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