Chelsey Laird loves travelling, so when she chose to study abroad to complete her undergrad in Global Studies, she couldn’t have been more excited! She fell so in love with Sweden and her new-found independence that she decided to stay past her exchange to complete her Master’s degree the following fall. This choice ultimately changed her entire life’s path, and she is very thankful it did.
More than just a degree
Chelsey, a native of small-town Lucan, Ontario, chose to finish her Global Studies degree from Wilfrid Laurier University by expanding her horizons studying abroad.
“We had the option to study abroad or pursue a globally-themed internship in Canada. I chose to study [abroad] because I was excited about the adventure and living outside Canada”, she says.
Chelsey is no stranger to travelling. Before her exchange she had travelled in Canada, the U.S.A, the U.K., Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany and France. She is driven by the idea of embracing the unknown, experiencing diverse cultures and learning how people live in different parts of the world.
Through the matching process, Chelsey was selected to go to Vaxjo University (now Linneaus University) in Vaxjo, Sweden. Prepared with her pre-departure sessions from Laurier and accompanied by other young women who were travelling to the same school, she set off on her exchange adventure that forever changed her life.
First Impressions and new Environments
When Chelsey first arrived to Vaxjo, she remembers it being a dark and cold winter night. She was very thankful that the University had volunteers and staff to transport the group to the University. Not only was she rooming with a student from her school back in Canada, but she was also partnered with a Buddy from Vaxjo University, who helped the students move into their studio apartment as well as familiarize them to the culture and area.
Chelsey recalls the size of their compact apartment was her first experience with cultural difference during her time abroad. “We had one common room (with two single beds from Ikea), a small high-top table, a kitchen and a bathroom, all squished into one”.
She also noticed that the structure of the classes and method of instruction were very different from that in Canada. “I recall that some of my classes had as little as 90-minutes a week of contact hours”, she says. She explains that the expectation in Sweden is that students use the additional time for independent study. This made the workload feel much less, even though she took the same number of courses as she did in Canada. It also meant Chelsey would have to be more self-reliant and motivated to succeed — important life lessons she still values today.
Personal Growth and Evolution
Chelsey didn’t expect the experience to have such a huge impact on her personal growth. “Studying abroad absolutely contributed to my personal development. I learned a lot about myself through studying abroad and at the time, I didn’t even know it”, she says. She became more confident in her independence and did not let anything hold her back. “I didn’t say ‘no’ very often, and I believe that this opened so many doors for me to experience a lot on my study abroad experience”, she says.
After she finished her study abroad and graduated, Chelsey was supposed to return home to Ontario and continue her education at Humber College. However, inspired by her life changing experience she decided to stay and pursue her Master’s degree in Global Studies in Sweden. “Not a lot of people can switch gears like this, and I think that this decision speaks to the skills I developed, such as being okay with ambiguity, taking risks, etc.”, she explains.
Thinking About the Future
Thanks to her study abroad experience, Chelsey has built a career in the international education sector. She has worked for a few universities in the international education field and currently works for the British Columbia Council for International Education where she helps to support the development of the international education sector at the provincial level.
Chelsey doesn’t plan to stop her professional development journey any time soon. Since successfully completing her Undergraduate and Master’s Degree, Chelsey is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Education in internationalization of higher education. Chelsey continues to travel as often as she can and is fortunate enough to travel for work.
Advice for Students and Grads
- “Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. This grey zone space is when you learn the most about yourself.”
- “Try on different ‘you’s’: this is your time to explore. Make friends with those you wouldn’t be friends with at home. Try a hobby [or] sport that scares you. Take a course [or] elective that isn’t offered at your home university.”
- “Participate in all of the activities at the host university/college. They’re fun and they’re usually free!”