“So are you, like, an exchange/international student?”
“Wait, you’re 22 and in third year?”
“Oh my God…Are you British? What are you doing here?!”
These are all questions I encounter on a regular basis. They’re all reasonable. The answers aren’t exactly simple, but it makes a pretty decent story. When I tell it in person, I condense it as much as I can depending how much time the listener has. Here’s the bottom line.
I’m a transfer student.
That’s the short story. Here’s the medium-length version:
- Aged 17: In my final year of secondary school, alongside my classmates, I applied to five universities to study English Language & Communication. However, unlike most of my classmates, I had decided to take a gap year: I knew I wanted to go to university, but I knew that I wanted to take some time out after finishing school first. I applied, I deferred my entry, and I wrote in my personal statement about how I hoped to use my time wisely, to become a more mature, balanced and passionate student. I was given conditional offers in the months that followed, alongside my non-gap year classmates.
- Aged 18: I finished school, and awaited results day with bated breath. I kicked off my gap year in Egypt, I moved to Toronto, and I got an email from the registrar at my first choice university saying that I had been accepted. I remember screaming when I saw the email pop up on my phone. So then I knew, at the beginning of my year abroad, that I had something to go back to.
- Ages 19: I did all kinds of fun things, which you can read about here.
- On my 20th birthday I moved into residence at Cardiff University, Wales. I loved my course, I made some really lovely friends, I did my laundry (sometimes), I went to lectures and felt passionately inspired. I knew that I had chosen the right program, I loved what I was learning… but not everything was perfect. When I applied, I had been living just over an hour away from Cardiff. I had imagined my siblings would visit me on weekends, that I could go home to get my mum’s cooking. What had transpired, in fact, was that my family were now across an ocean. I was in my home country, but I was alone. Between various situations that caused me to have severe and regular anxiety attacks (if only I had been able to read Sienna’s panic attack survival guide back then!) and my dramatically declining health/brush with death, it became a very difficult, sad year.
And here’s the problem; I value experience. I don’t believe in getting a degree just because it’s a stepping stone to a job, a social requirement, a check-box on my resume. I believe in education for self-betterment, I believe in learning for the sake of learning. I want to look back at my degree and be grateful for the privilege I have been afforded.
I want to thrive rather than simply survive.
By the summer after my first year, I could see that I wasn’t thriving– I was barely even surviving. I had three options:
- I could stay put and struggle on
- I could drop out, or
- I could do the unthinkable, and transfer to a university closer to my family
My head told me to stick it out. My heart told me that I absolutely couldn’t drop out of my degree. And my entire being rushed into the realisation that really, my three options had become one.
I had to transfer, and I had just under 6 weeks to do it in.
I’m the type to look before I leap. I don’t make rash decisions. I like to know everything in advance and I like knowing that I have time to prepare myself. Even now, I don’t really know how I found the courage to take on such a huge and overwhelming challenge. I do remember that there were lots of tears, lots of self-doubt, and lots of relying on my mum to keep me calm. It was a tumultuous summer, and time wasn’t on my side.
I’ve written before about my first visit to Glendon and how I came to find out about it (it’s a great story, trust me) and so in this post, I’m going to share some of the process.
It started at my mum’s dining room table in my pyjamas, weeping over my laptop at the U of T, York and Ryerson websites. After various wails of “MUUUUU-uuum I can’t do this!” my mum picked up the phone and did something I’d never have considered: she called the admissions department (PRO TIP: my mum is a smart lady. Calling was a good idea). Within minutes, we had all the information we needed, and I had an appointment to meet a real life human from Glendon to go over all my paperwork in person. This is part of the fast-track admission service Glendon offers, and it was the experience that made me feel that this scary leap into the unknown might actually be a good idea. Trying to figure everything out by myself from my laptop had felt overwhelming and ridiculous, but sitting in the office (SPOILER: the same office that I now do lots of my writing from!) with a friendly face talking me through every step of paperwork made me feel safe and supported.
I went back and forth with the recruitment team for the next few weeks; I emailed them with questions and updated transcripts, resumes of my gap year and statements of my reasons for transferring, they called me with updates and reassurances. It felt like a collaborative effort; it felt like they wanted me to be at Glendon as much as I did. I still felt so overwhelmed by the enormity of what I was doing, but I spent hours poring over the eAmbassador blogs; as a blogger myself, and a transfer student in the making, it was Team Awesome that were my lifeline– in particular Michelle, who also transferred to Glendon after completing a year of undergrad studies elsewhere. Once everything was submitted, there was nothing to do for a while but wait to see if I would be moving my entire life across an ocean and cutting my last tie to the country I was born in, after all.
And then a few days before Frosh started, the hard work, tears, overseas phone calls, and hours of paperwork all paid off. I was accepted to the Specialised Bilingual Linguistics & Languages BA Honours program. I sat at my mum’s dining room table in my pyjamas and wept over my laptop, but this time with pure shock and relief.
I was in!
My work wasn’t done, though. Now, I had to figure out my transfer credits, enrol in classes (the week before classes started), apply for OSAP, get a Canadian cell phone, officially leave my place in Cardiff, get a student card, tell all my UK friends that I might never see them again, tell all my Canadian friends that we wouldn’t be saying goodbye in September, and, you know…actually come to terms with the shock of it all.
Three weeks later, I was officially an established Glendonite — and an eAmbassador. That was almost two years ago, and the dust is still settling. Because it all happened so quickly, it took me a long time to find my feet in a foreign education system. Even this week, I’ve found myself at Academic Advising looking for (and being given) answers to all my questions. But am I glad that I transferred? Absolutely.
Transferring made me confront my mentality towards my degree: British undergrad degrees are 3 years unless you take a placement year, and gap years are extremely common, so had I stayed in the UK, I would have been graduating at the end of this year, assuming I was healthy enough to stay in my degree. Transferring to a program that is expected to take a minimum of four years, and has a bilingual requirement to boot, means that I’ll probably be taking a little longer than four years to graduate. And while it was a bitter pill to swallow at first, that’s fine. The medicine is worth it. What’s an extra year and a bit if my experience is a fuller, happier, bilingual one?
I’m not the type to leap before I look. I like to know what I’m doing, I like to be prepared. I’m also not the type to live by conventional protocol. It makes for an interesting time, and it leads me to trust that sometimes, a leap of faith isn’t a bad thing.
If you’re thinking of transferring, here’s my advice:
- Seek support from friends/family and the universities you are going between. Cardiff and Glendon were such sources of positivity for me, and without the kindness of several people at each institution I wouldn’t have got through that summer.
- Be organised. Keep hard copies and digital ones of all your paperwork. Write everything down. Make lists. It’ll keep you sane.
- Don’t hide behind your laptop! It can be confusing to navigate all that information by yourself… so don’t. Pick up the phone or even go into the campus itself if you can.
- Trust your gut, not your fear. I thought my instincts were the ones telling me I was insane– it was actually my own fears and the negativity of strangers who heard my story. My gut was what pushed me to ignore them.
- Keep the faith. It’ll be worth it.