#StudyAbroadBecause It Can Change Your Reality

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Michelle Belair is a wanderer, social worker, and writer who aims to share the beauty of the world - the nature that creates it and the individuals that inhabit it. With an interest in travel, self-development, and vegan living, she believes that the best way to live is by fueling your heart and energy with all the things that bring you joy and passion. To read more from Michelle, follow her at www.whirlwind-travel.com. She studied abroad in Barbados.

Daily coconut water :) #StudyAbroadBecause It Can Change Your Reality

Daily coconut water :)

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

Studying abroad was an opportunity I had been hoping for since I was thirteen. I received a random email from my university in the summer about international education opportunities and it was a no brainer - of course I was going to apply! I was given two options: Australia or Barbados. As an avid traveler, I knew that I would make it to Australia on my own but I had never given Barbados much thought. I figured this was a sign that I could discover a part of the world that I hadn’t expected to see, so I chose Barbados. 

Sunset at Paradise Beach, Barbados. #StudyAbroadBecause It Can Change Your Reality

Sunset at Paradise Beach, Barbados

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?

Studying in Barbados was an incredible experience on all levels. It was challenging at first to adapt to “island time,” where everyone was continuously late for everything and my university classes regularly started 40 minutes late. It was also a challenge to deal with the attention I received of being Caucasian and the frequent catcalls on the street. When you go to these countries for a week-long vacation, you would find it almost flattering, but six months of constant stares and catcalls can take its toll. 

My favorite memories were the amazing friendships I created with fellow exchange students and the locals. The development of these friendships, the amazing experiences that we had, and waking up excited for each and every day is what I remember the most. Everyone gathering on the beach to watch the sunset every evening is something I will never forget.

 UWI Carnival, Barbados. #StudyAbroadBecause It Can Change Your Reality

 UWI Carnival

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad?

I developed a lot of work-related skills, as the majority of my study abroad experience was spent at a full time practicum, where I worked in one of the lowest socio-economic communities in Barbados. This really strengthened my perseverance and my ability to time manage, build programs, engage community members, etc. My skills to listen and understand the culture increased, allowing me to communicate with the locals more easily, which I believe will help me with my future career and my future travel plans. 

I have definitely changed from my experience. I no longer allow time and anxiety to rule my life. I fully embraced the island lifestyle and have incorporated a solid balance of work, play, and relaxation into my daily life. I refuse to allow myself to be over-run by work like much of my Western society does. My perception of how my reality should be has changed greatly, thanks to this experience. 

UWI (University of the West Indies) Carnival, Barbados. #StudyAbroadBecause It Can Change Your Reality

UWI (University of the West Indies) Carnival, Barbados

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today? 

I only just returned home from my study abroad experience. At this point, I believe that this experience has had more of an influence on my personal being, on my spirit. It ignited a light and a fuel within me to do all that it takes to reach a point in my life where I can exude happiness and excitement for daily life. To live a life that is simple and happy. 

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?

- Take half the stuff and double the money, always. You won’t remember the clothes you wore or the candles you brought to make your room more like home. You’re going to remember the friendships you made and the experiences you had and you won’t want to say no to activities because of a budget. 

- Leave your expectations at home. By leaving your expectations behind, you will be open to any and all experiences thrown your way. There will be a mix of good and bad, fun and hard work, sleepless nights and early mornings, but ultimately this experience will be all you imagined and more. 

Sunset at Batts Rock Beach, Barbados. #StudyAbroadBecause It Can Change Your Reality

Sunset at Batts Rock Beach, Barbados

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

Before moving to Barbados, I didn’t feel like I had a cultural identity. As a Canadian in a country that is so multicultural, I had no idea what my culture was, what being Canadian meant. Locals often asked me what Canada’s local dish was – a question I still don’t have an answer for! Canada is just so large that it really boils down to which province you live in and even what community you come from.

After immersing myself in the culture of Barbados, I realized that Canada has an entirely different way of living, different norms, different views on social issues, etc. I’ve realized that there are positive and negative aspects to every culture and that it’s so important to understand an individual’s culture in order to truly understand the way they live their life. 

International education increased my love for my country and culture, but also influenced the way in which I would like to adopt bits and pieces from the Bajan culture in order to positively balance my own. 

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

If you have an opportunity to study abroad and you’re tossing the idea around, just do it. Take the opportunity. Don’t hesitate. Don’t think about what will happen after. Don’t worry about the money; do whatever it takes to get yourself there. It will teach you so much more than any university class you’ve taken. 

#StudyAbroadBecause It Can Change Your Reality



All photos courtesy and copyright Michelle Belair