Returning to Canada: Catching Up After a Gap Year

Returning to Canada: Catching Up After a Gap Year

Carmen in San Francisco, at the Golden Gate Bridge.I first interviewed Carmen Graves when she and I met at a language school in Madrid on an intensive academic year-long Spanish program. At the time, Carmen was using the experience to study at the school’s three centers around Spain as a gap year abroad between finishing her high school degree and starting university back in her home country of Canada. Carmen began her year in Madrid. She then traveled the Iberian peninsula for three-month-long stints in Málaga and Barcelona.

Catching Up After Carmen’s Gap Year

Close to the end of her gap year experience, I spoke with Carmen to see what she’d learned and gained from her year abroad in Spain and how she anticipated it would impact her moving forward. Over a year has passed since then. Carmen is now living back in Canada and working towards her bachelor’s degree. She is currently a sophomore at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and is double majoring in Actuarial Science and Economics. Recently, Carmen and I spoke again so she could share some updates with Dreams Abroad. Read on to see what has been going on in her life since her return to Canada.

What have you been up to since moving back to Canada?

“Once I arrived back in Canada, I moved halfway across the country to attend Dalhousie University on the East Coast. I originally started pursuing a degree in Actuarial Science — a branch of Math focusing on risk assessment — but I quickly added another major in Economics. To date, I have thoroughly enjoyed my courses as well as other aspects of university life. I’ve been spending time with my friends, exploring the city, and taking on leadership roles where I have the opportunity to advocate for my peers.”

Carmen and her university friends posing on a dock next to a lake after her gap year.

What was it like returning to Canada after a gap year in Spain?

“It was a bittersweet experience. I would have been happy to stay in Spain forever, but I also missed real maple syrup. It helped that I was moving on to a new chapter in my life starting university. University was something I had always been excited about. 

When I got back, it was a challenge to find a balance between sharing my experiences and not falling into the ‘I studied abroad’ stereotype.”

Carmen in the snow after her gap year.

How do you think taking a gap year influenced or changed your first year in university?

“It was a huge influence. Living independently in a different country really prepared me to adapt to a new city and a new student lifestyle. I also learned how to manage myself and my time in a way that I had not learned right out of high school. In addition, I was also excited to throw myself into new opportunities, such as taking on roles in student leadership, to keep challenging myself now that I was back in Canada.”

How did your experience shift as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

“It has definitely been an interesting time. A positive effect has been that I moved back home with my family. I hadn’t really planned on moving back. Fortunately, that means that I have spent some quality time with them which would not otherwise have been possible.

Carmen remote learning on a pink swing chair outside.

Unfortunately, I had planned another study abroad experience in Australia for the Fall Term, which now won’t take place. It has made me incredibly grateful that I had my time in Spain. I took advantage of every opportunity to travel when I was there.”

How has the remote start to your second year been so far?

“It has been better than expected. Fortunately, I study math. The transition to online delivery of content has not been as difficult as some other fields of study. The biggest challenge has been connecting with other students and faculty while I am almost 2,000 km away from my university.”

You’ve had a number of experiences abroad even before starting your university degree. How do you think students today can engage the world even if they can’t study abroad?

“I think the most valuable thing I got out of my experiences abroad was connecting with people from different cultures with different perspectives and experiences. There are plenty of opportunities to meet people across the world, whether traveling once it’s possible again or engaging with people online. Platforms that facilitate these connections continue to grow in number.”

Carmen posing with pumpkins after her gap year.

What is on the horizon for you now? And where would you next love to go when we’re all able to travel again?

“Despite my university study abroad being canceled, I would still love to go to Australia. Once travel opens back up, I would also like to prioritize trips where I can visit the friends I made during my study abroad experience in Spain. In the longer term, I would love to work abroad.”

Carmen posing with her university friends one night.

Filling in the Gaps

Since finishing her gap year in Spain, a lot has happened in Carmen’s life. She has moved back to her home country of Canada. Almost immediately thereafter, she moved across the country from the Toronto area to Halifax to pursue her university degree. She then had the second semester of her first year disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Carmen started her second year of university remotely from her family home. Nonetheless, she’s taken it all in stride — something surely attributable in large part to the skill set living abroad helped her to build.

Through the unexpected twists and turns this year has taken for all of us, Carmen has been able to draw upon her certainty of self to move forward and persevere. She’s been able to thrive through a very unconventional beginning to her undergraduate career because living abroad prepared her for the unexpected and uncomfortable. And like a true expat, she hopes to be able to travel again very soon.

by Emma Schultz

58 thoughts on “Returning to Canada: Catching Up After a Gap Year

  1. I can really related to this post. I traveled abroad for a while, and while one of the places I stayed ended up feeling like home, coming back to my real home was so wonderful. I did miss where I was living before for a long time, though.

    1. Claudia I’ve felt similarly moving abroad and moving back home various times. It always feels like you leave a little bit of your heart in each place.

  2. That is so awesome she was able to go to Spain and have those experiences. Hopefully she will get to go to Australia as well.

      1. I feel the same way with you. When I live abroad, I missed the moment in my countrycountry. But when I returned to my country, I missed the food, the even air, people where I used to lived abroad. But coming back home is a wonderful thing. Specially when meet your family again.

        1. Yudith I can really understand that. I have felt the same way the different times I’ve lived abroad! It’s almost like you leave a piece of your heart in each new place you call home.

  3. So glad you made it back to Canada after being abroad! I bet it felt good to be back in Canada. Traveling is always fun but makes me miss home.

    1. Kileen I’m sure going home was a wonderful experience for Carmen! I’ve found that reflecting on experiences abroad after going home can be a wonderful opportunity for reflection and growth.

  4. What a great opportunity to take a gap year in a different part of the world. And good for her for killing it in university. I have never even heard of Actuarial Science! I’m glad it was explained, lol. 🙂

    1. Carmen is a very impressive young woman! I’m proud to call her a friend. And I needed her to explain her degree to me when we first discussed it too, Marie!

  5. I am also considering to do an intensive Spanish course in the near-future. Reading about where it can take you does inspire me to take action! Thanks for sharing your unique insight into your study abroad experience.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mow! Let me know if you have any questions about studying Spanish abroad. I also did an intensive year abroad studying Spanish and really enjoyed it.

  6. I am so happy for her experiences, I am also happy that she made it back to Canada to see her family and taking her degree. I am wishing her all the best and also to fulfill her dream to go to Australia as well.

  7. I’m glad she was able to make it safely back to Canada after her travels. I hope COVID is over soon and she is able to make it to Australia as well.

    1. I’m sure Carmen will make it one way or another, sooner or later, to Australia and many more international destinations! Thanks for your comment, Pam.

  8. I also relate to this post. I also lived in the other country for a very long time.. And i really missed my family, friends and the things i usually do. Its really glad to come back home the way Carmen felt.

    1. Sometimes coming home after living abroad can make you realize all that you appreciate about home. Thanks for your comment Maricar!

  9. It’s always great to have a catch up session. I want to live abroad some day. I wish a gap year was something I knew of or had the opportunity to do when I was younger. Sounds like an awesome experience!

    1. It always is! I too wish I had known about gap years when I was younger – what a great way to find your way in the world (literally and figuratively). But it’s never too late to go abroad! Hope you’re able to find your way wherever you dream of going very soon.

  10. Taking a gap year is quite popular over here – I bet it is nice to just get to go and travel the world a little and see different things but very different coming home.

    1. Hi Sarah! Where in the world are you located that it’s so common to take a gap year? I think it’s a great way for young people to experience the world and I hope it gains more popularity everywhere!

  11. It’s tough to move back after a year away. I have a friend who was gone for almost 2 years – just shy of 2 years by like 3 months, and she’s having a weird time adjusting.

    1. Gigi it is such a challenging experience. I’ve had several waves of readjustment to life abroad and life back home and it’s always difficult. I’ve written about it a few times in the past! Maybe your friend would find some common themes in those pieces – this one that I wrote on “reverse culture shock” a few years ago: and this one that I wrote on how to cope with reverse culture shock a couple of years ago:

      Thanks for your comment!

  12. A gap year in Spain sounds amazing!! I hope my son is brave enough to consider doing this. What a great life experience for you. But there is no place like home.

    1. Melissa I think gap years and other experiences abroad can be so enriching for young people! I’ve had several study abroad experiences myself that I think informed my worldview. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Thanks for your comment!

  13. I loved Spain when we visited for a month in September. What a gorgeous place. We didn’t get to stay nearly long enough!

    1. I hope you get to return to Spain soon! It’s a beautiful country – I lived there for three years and hope to get back soon.

  14. It is amazing how you enjoyed Spain so much, and I bet it gives a positive impact on your life. Wherever we go for so many years, we will always go back to the place we always call home, and for you it’s Canada 🙂

    1. I think Carmen did have a great experience in Spain! And I know it’s influenced her in the long-term, no matter where she ends up.

  15. wish i could take a gap year and go visit places as well ! its good to take a break and to recharge kind regards Pati Robins @style squeeze blog

    1. Pati it’s a great chance to take a break, see new things, and learn! I hope you’re able to explore and engage the world be it through a gap year or other endeavors soon!

  16. I’m glad you got back to Canada safely. It’s lovely to have a little break sometimes. I haven’t been to Spain yet but it sounds fun and I’m glad you had so much fun there.

    1. Carmen had a great time in Spain! And it was lovely to meet her there. Hoping you get to Spain soon! It’s a beautiful country that I called home for three years.

  17. Looks like such an amazing experience. I hope to go to Canada someday. I love all your photos. They make me wish I could go now.

  18. I always think that studying abroad is exciting. Wishing her all the best. My brother lives in Canada and we have relatives in Halifax. I hope we get to go there when the pandemic is over.

    1. Lynndee studying abroad is great! I was very fortunate to be able to do so three times, in three different places. I’m also hoping to visit Canada to see Carmen soon!

  19. Having a gap year sounds like an awesome experience. It sounds like this was a nice way to experience a lot of different things. Hopefully the pandemic will get better soon and we can get back to traveling.

    1. Monica I think it would be! What a great time to learn about yourself and the world. And both Canada and Spain would be great choices!

  20. It’s wonderful to have an experience about but it’s better when you turn back home! A gap year can teach us a lot!

  21. I hope that Carmen gets to travel to Australia at some point. It sounds like her gap year was wonderful and she has adjusted quite well to moving back home.

    1. Nikki I agree with you! And what a great skillset to develop by living abroad – independence is something she will be able to use the rest of her life!

  22. I have always wanted to spend some time in another country. But as it is, life had different plans for me. I wouldn’t change it for anything though.

    I hope she gets the opportunity to go to Australia. I’ve heard it’s a beautiful place to visit.

    1. I’m sure Carmen will get to Australia someday one way or another! And I hope you’re able to go abroad for a visit or a longer stay at some point, too! It’s never too late to chase a dream abroad!

  23. Emma, what a lovely story! After my gap year, I literally had a reverse culture shock in my own country. I’m glad there was no mention of this but I am sure everyone sees you as a different person now. Congratulations on completing your trip and I hope all is well on your end.

    1. Thanks so much, Trisha! I can relate to your experience with reverse culture shock – I’ve dealt with that myself, too. Where did you do your gap year? Carmen seems to have adjusted really well to life back in Canada and that’s great!

      If you’d like to check out either of my pieces on reverse culture shock, please feel free:

  24. The longest I have stayed abroad in was for three months, in Italy. But still when I returned the feelings were more or less same so I can really relate!

    1. Thanks for your comment! I can completely understand that – being abroad can be a big change whether you stay for weeks, months, or years! It can all be very impactful.

  25. Great perspective of going with the flow despite the challenges of travel and Covid. Completely agree, studying abroad does help you grow in more ways than you expect. That was certainly my experience.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Rosemary! It is a good perspective, and one that will serve her well (and any of us, really) in lots of the unexpected moments we all face in life.I also grew in so many ways from my experiences studying abroad. I’m glad that was also your experience!

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