Post-travel realizations & optimizing the time I have left

I came to two interesting realizations these past couple of weeks as I travelled through several countries for Spring Break (Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany!). I spent some time looking back on the trips we took during first semester, compared them to my trips this semester, and saw a lot of differences. I’ve become much more adventurous in my travelling; I’m comfortable making last-minute decisions, taking in new surroundings, and not even knowing what I’m doing at all. I’m more independent and less paranoid, in substantially better physical and mental shape and, most importantly, learned. As my expense allowance has thinned out substantially, I see myself as less of a tourist in these cities since I’m trying to live as frugally as possible. Restrictions like that, though, have made my travel so much more valuable to me. And who doesn’t love a cheap picnic?!

picnic

As excited as I am to have become a much more adventurous person than I have ever been, I think I’ve officially exhausted all of the energy that I could into this year. I’ll never, ever be finished travelling, but I’m definitely finished for now.

IMG_4939Last Seen: Wandering around the continent with a backpack that JUST fits in the overhead compartment.

I have three weeks left in this amazing city (Brussels, of course), but I have to spend most of it studying and preparing for my final presentations. I want to soak up all of the city that I can before I leave so I’ve decided to veto working in the library and spend my time at many of the city’s independent coffee shops, and perhaps take breaks at local restaurants ;). This way, I can have the best of both worlds: productivity and the city. I’ll be writing a post in the coming week about the places I visit, photos included! À bientôt. 🙂

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The evolution of my photos

I had a Canon Rebel T1i in my first year, and I loved it to death. That being said, however, I had NO IDEA HOW TO USE IT; literally zero knowledge. I had learned how to use an SLR in a grade eleven Media Arts course, but most of that information went in one ear and out the other. So, I’d use my Rebel on its auto setting and left it at that. I eventually ruined this camera. I won’t go into detail, but I learned that day to ALWAYS keep my camera in a camera bag, and not in a backpack with bottles of things. Yeah.

My parents boldly decided to give me another shot with an expensive camera and splurged on a Rebel T2i (step up!) for Christmas in 2012, a year and a half after the backpack incident. I didn’t have much time to really master the use of my new camera, but I played around with it when I had the chance. Before I knew it I was heading off to Europe on exchange, so I packed my camera without any hesitation.

When I first started out on my adventures my photos were nice, but I clearly wasn’t THAT great. What I’ve noticed is that I’ve always had a great eye for composition but when it came to light settings, my shots were often laughable. A few photos from first semester with obvious progress throughout my travels:

Over the course of the year I’ve really been able to get to know my camera; my photos got better and better with practice! Cue solo France trip (which the blog hasn’t seen yet, so I’m killing two birds with one stone!):

Many friends ask me if the photos I post on Instagram are taken with my iPhone, and the vast majority are! It’s totally possible to take very high quality photos with an iPhone, granted I have a bit of help from my Olloclip lens. Here are some of my favourites (apologies for the white borders on a few! #instaproblems):

And then something life-changing happened, which actually inspired this post! I downloaded Lightroom, Adobe’s Creative Suite photo editing software, and my photos went from pretty awesome to OH MY GOD WHAT IS LIFE (well, for me at least!) Cue Valencia:

Sometimes I look back on older photos and get frustrated because I wasn’t able to take photos of the quality I shoot now, but I also take a huge amount of pride in the obvious progress I’ve made with my photography over the course of this year. Regardless of quality, I love looking back on my photos and taking in the amazing memories that I’ve made while travelling! It may take me longer to walk from point A to point B because I often stop to snap photos, but I love the satisfying feeling of scrolling through them at the end of the day.

The city, and the less than fairy tale transition into exchange life

Lost in a taxi: that’s exactly how I started my exchange in Brussels, Belgium. (That was a stressful experience, let me tell you!)

I settled into my room at Village Patrimmonia, a complex where I’m living on a res-style floor with other exchange students, about a ten-minute walk from L’Université Libre de Bruxelles. Most of my floormates are from Québec, but there’s also a girl from Italy and a girl from Paris! My friend Ana, also a Glendon student, is living directly beside me and my other close friend Meena (you guessed it, GL as well!) is living in the other building in the complex. I’ll post photos of my room at some point because it’s really cute, but it’s pretty messy at the moment so you’ll have to bear with me. 🙂

Brussels is an adorable city, full of beautiful architecture and DELICIOUS food. See for yourself:

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Grand Place in the centre of Brussels

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Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

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Street Waffe. I die. ♡_____♡

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Mussels in Brussels (hehe.)

I’ve met some great people, most of whom I don’t have photos with yet, but it’ll happen! Though we’ve all been making our own travel plans, we decided to all go to Prague, Czech Republic, together in October. That is sure to be an unbelievable time!

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Ana and I with Sara, an indescribably awesome girl we live with. She’s from Gatineau, not too far from us!

Ana and Laure (from Paris) loving the free hugs at Grand Place

Ana and Laure (from Paris) loving the free hugs at Grand Place

We haven’t gone on any trips yet, but we did take a day to visit the beautiful town of Bruges, an hour train-ride north of Brussels. I didn’t think it was possible to make as many ‘In Bruges’ references as we did, but rest assured that it happened!

Bruges Centre

Bruges Centre

My favourite photo I took that day. We went on an awesome boat tour on the canal that runs through Bruges!

My favourite photo I took that day. We went on an awesome boat tour on the canal that runs through Bruges!

Next on the itinerary: BARCELONA. THIS WEEKEND. I turn 21 on Thursday and I can’t think of a more exciting way to celebrate!

On a more serious note, transitioning into this new life has been nothing short of difficult. I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the time change in more ways than just being tired; staying in contact with friends and family at home is more difficult than I imagined and I have found myself staying up really late at night in order to do so. Staying up is something that I never do and it’s royally messing me up! I’m also not a person who has experience interacting with people from all over the world in an entirely foreign place. It’s something I’m starting to get used to, but it’s a whole lot to take in this quickly.

To quote a previous post of mine: “It’s okay to be shy, it’s okay to be crazy and wild, and it’s okay to be who you want to be. Despite popular belief, you do not need to change who you are just because you’re ‘starting fresh’ at a new school. You will find your ‘people’.” Aside from Ana, Meena, and the handful of people we live with (who we’re slowly but surely becoming closer with), I have yet to find my ‘people’. I’ve never had a problem discovering who my ‘people’ are, but I suppose studying abroad and ‘travelling the world’ is more of a fairy tale in one’s mind than it is in reality. I have a feeling that maybe this difficulty is originating from my lack of campus involvement. I went from full-fledged immersion in campus activities to NOTHING. It’s also much more difficult to find clubs and activities here than it is at York and Glendon. To put it into perspective, I have seen nothing of a students’ union/student government at ULB o_O. To my fellow Glendonites and Yorkies reading this, we are so lucky to have such a streamlined extra-curricular program; never ever stop appreciating its awesomeness!

With that said, I may have found something that I will truly enjoy here at ULB. The campus’ Model United Nations team is world renowned; they achieved ‘Outstanding Delegation’ at National Model United Nations in New York this past year. ULB MUN involves the exact kinds of people that I love to work with, and I have no doubt in my mind that this is what I want to be involved with this year. However, selection for ULB MUN involves a heavy and competitive application process that scares me a little. I’ll keep you all posted on my progress on this front; hopefully I get to be a part of this awesome experience!

À bientôt! A post about my classes and academics at ULB will be up soon. 🙂