When she was young, Faeza Afzal would often travel through London, England on her way to Canada to visit her family.
She was only 10 years old when her aunt took her sightseeing in Oxford. Seeing the tall spires and the beautiful architecture, Faeza says “it was pretty much love at first sight.”
In 2006, Faeza found herself back in the UK, with an Oxford degree in her sights and an adventure abroad to unfold.
“Travel is in my blood” – Starting a new adventure
Although Faeza is a Canadian citizen, she’s spent most of her life living outside of the country. While her family was from Bangladesh, she grew up in Saudi Arabia.
“I have always had ‘itchy feet’, as I like to call them,” says Faeza. “Travel is in my blood and part of my nature. I love to explore and discover new places, and I am always looking forward to my next trip. Studying and working abroad is a natural extension of this passion.”
Based on her experiences in the UK, and her already-established love of the city, Faeza says Oxford University was a natural choice for her.
“I’ve always been a nerd (a name that I embrace wholeheartedly now), so Oxford was a great fit for my academic nature.”
She spent the next 5 years in the UK: 2 years at Sevenoaks boarding school in Kent, England, and the following 3 years in university residence at Oxford studying Economics and Management.
Her first real experience living away from home at boarding school was a shared experience with her classmates. Sevenoaks is a school for girls who come from all over the world to finish their final 2 years of high school abroad.
Naturally, their shared experiences of homesickness and culture shock brought them close together.
“Going through the same experiences of homesickness and culture shock with 56 other girls really helped with the adjustment process,” says Faeza.
“We became a family away from home, and a shoulder to lean/cry on when things were new, different, and outside of anything that we had experienced before.”
Planning to study abroad? Here are Faeza’s tips:
- “Pick a school and program that you will love. You want to make sure that you enjoy the program that you are going for. It is good to have a program that you enjoy as a focus and motivation for why you are abroad in the first place.”
- “Choose somewhere where you can explore. It’s always great to be able to travel while you are studying abroad. Pick somewhere where you can not only learn about the culture of where you will be staying, but also have access to other places to visit.”
- “Enjoy it – cherish it – make the most of it! It may be your once-in-a-lifetime experience, or the start of a beautiful love affair with travel and exploration.”
“An enriching experience” – Learning abroad
“When you are outside of your comfort zone, your usual network, and in an unfamiliar place, you really discover who you are and what type of person you are,” says Faeza, recalling how she began her trip as a cool, collected, and organized individual.
“I know initially I was always super-prepared for every experience and had everything mapped out before I went anywhere. I’ve learned to relax a little – obviously make sure the key things are covered (my ID, where I am staying, how I am going to stay in touch, travel arrangements), but I let the other aspects take their natural course – like trips, excursions, shopping, etc.”
But it wasn’t just about discovering herself. Faeza says the most important thing she learned on her trip was to remember to “be open to conversations and people; to embrace the sights and culture around you; to immerse yourself in as many experiences as possible, and to cherish every moment.”
She gained a lot of different perspectives from interacting with people who had different backgrounds. Different situations presented different reactions, as well as funny stories.
Faeza recalls teaching one roommate how to do laundry (by not putting detergent in the dryer!) and discovering the chocolate-and-hazelnut spread, Nutella.
“Nothing clears the homesickness blues quite like sharing a tub of Nutella with friends,” she says!
“The world is my oyster” – Shaping a career
Since graduating from Oxford with honours in 2009, Faeza has worked in several consulting and administration roles.
She now holds the title of “Director of Regional Sales & Business Development” with EDge Interactive – a company that helps students and schools connect through digital platforms.
During her career, Faeza has had the opportunity to help both Canadian and international students plan out their academic futures.
“I love sharing my experiences with Canadian students who would like to study abroad, and relating to international students who want to study in Canada,” she says. “My background allows me to bring an international perspective to my work.”
Her love of travel hasn’t slowed down. In fact, in the last four years, Faeza’s career has allowed her the opportunity to travel across the country.
“I think my ‘itchy feet’ has made me want a job where I can travel and explore as part of my work,” she says. “It also means that I see my career path and location as being fluid – I’m happy to work anywhere in the world, so long as I do something that I love.”
“As they say, the world is my oyster!”
Why should students consider travelling abroad?
- It’s a great way to gain perspective. Faeza says travelling is an eye-opening experience for many people. You’ll get to know others from different backgrounds and cultures. She also says “It’s not just about what you learn, but what you share with others.”
- You have something to offer others. Don’t think you’ll be the only one who has a positive takeaway. The people you meet will also learn about you and your culture as well. It’s a win-win situation!
- Travel options are more accessible. With technology, the world has become smaller. With good research and preparation, overseas travel is much easier to do. Whether you go for a few days or a few years, the experiences you gain will be invaluable!