When the opportunity arose to study Occupational Therapy at the University of Northampton in England, I was ready for change. I was thrilled about the opportunity to experience life as a local, and I immediately started envisioning what it would be like.
England—the historically-rich land of rolling hills, sheep-dotted countryside and copious amounts of tea. So much to see, learn and explore! Would living in England feel like my happy new home, or a damp, grey sea of regret? In my second and final year I’ve realized this experience has taught me so much more than how to navigate public transit or write an essay.
It’s amazing what you learn about yourself when you’re plucked out of the familiar and planted into the unknown. People are occupational beings, and I realized how easy it is to identify with what you do. With every new conversation I felt I needed to explain my story: “Hi! I’m from Canada! I like the outdoors, strong cups of coffee and climbing rocks in ridiculously small shoes.”
I needed people to know where I came from and where I was going. So much of my worth was formed in where I had worked and what I had done, as if past experience could carry me through the present. What opportunities for growth were waiting on the other side of the Atlantic?
Northampton is a blue collar, boot-producing phenomenon, containing the largest shoe museum in the world. The terrace house I share with 3 other Canadians is almost older than Canada’s confederation. The wildlife—besides the university students—is limited to the ginormous wolf spiders that take up residence.
Even though we all speak English, I quickly learned there are some very significant differences. I don’t recommend exclaiming “I love your pants!” (the British equivalent to underwear), or informing others “I go to school” (which is for children).
Community integration was high on my priority list, and although it was impossible to blend in with my accent, “American, right?” I was determined to do what the locals do. I never imagined how long it would take to adapt to cycling on the other side of the road, and that when people ask if you are alright, they don’t think you look ill.
A solid church family connection has been foundational to my English experience. I couldn’t have dreamt of a more loving and living church, that goes the extra mile to ensure all their brothers and sisters in Christ are physically, emotionally and spiritually looked after. It was here, after all, where I was introduced to the delectable Yorkshire pudding, which is worth a plane ticket in itself! The church family has provided physical and spiritual food, and it was amazing to experience the global aspect of Christian fellowship. God is at work everywhere.
Fitting into student life has included many adaptations as well. The new additions to my wardrobe consist strictly of functional moisture-wicking or waterproof materials; I even turned up for an interview head-to-toe in dripping rain gear. I’ve learned how to cycle in a dress and the library has become a second home.
Studying abroad has given insight into how much we depend on our own knowledge and capabilities, and how easily shaken we are. I’ve also realized God is not geographically nor culturally confined. The people I’ve been able to connect with, just because of an accent, have led to amazing and enriching interactions.
When this is all over and I return to Canada, look for a job and establish a familiar routine, will I be content? Will I be happy to be back on home soil, the travel bug sufficiently satisfied? It’s easy to get wrapped up in the story yet to come, but adventure is a perception—a way of life. Whatever lies ahead, I know God places people right where He wants them. Whether the current situation feels like a mountaintop experience or a valley low, we can trust in Him who sustains. Studying in England has highlighted the fact that God never forsakes those who love him, and that you can’t put a price on a strong cup of tea.
Belinda is an occupational therapy student who loves meeting new people and being outdoors. She enjoys strong cups of coffee, deep conversations and experiencing the world through travel. For her, student life is a balancing act between homework, rock climbing, wheelchair basketball, and competitive rounds of Uno.