The “Leap”: Why Drop Everything for a Year Abroad

By David Bobyn, 2018 McCall MacBain International Fellow (Germany) 

There are those that likely see the opportunity of participating in the McCall MacBain International Fellowship to be a no brainer. There are those that may see it as quite an intriguing experience but perhaps for too long a period, or maybe one that doesn’t fit with their life in Canada. Finally, there are those that think it’d make absolutely no sense to embark on such a year.

In my own situation, when this opportunity arose I had signed my lease on a house for my final year of Engineering, I knew the courses I wanted to take, and I was interviewing for various positions within clubs on campus. I had even started thinking about where I’d travel after graduating in 2019. I was extremely excited for all of it and not just comfortable but thrilled with the prospect of my next year at university being my final one, which was sure to be a blast. When the opportunity of spending a year in a new place came up, my world flipped upside down as I recognized how rare and unique of a chance this was. I had spent the last three years building a home at university and knew exactly what it would be like in my final year. Yet, in the end I got more excited about the prospect of embarking on an entire year to explore a different side of myself and of the world.

In the end, I applied for the fellowship because the benefits from the opportunity could not be replaced on my own, whereas any drawbacks were solvable, unjustified, or pushable. For example:

  • Solvable: my lease could be subletted, and my courses and clubs positions deferred with some effort.
  • Unjustified: a delay of a year did feel like a long time and it took me a long while to recognize that in the grand scheme of things a year would have no impact on my “career path”. On the contrary, the extra year would give me time to evaluate my planned next steps and could potentially open up new paths to consider!
  • Pushable: I’m now making up words but by this I mean my fear of leaving my comfort zone at university, losing friends and having to make new ones. Addressing these ‘cons’ simply required a push for me to stay in touch with the friends I wanted to, to leave this comfort zone for my own personal growth, and to meet new people that could lend different perspectives to my life.

Then the fun part, the excitement: it was when I spelt it out plain and simple to myself that it became clear: a team is willing to invest in you to spend a year in a new country, learning a new language and becoming immersed in a new culture. I would never embark on something of this sort on my own, I’d likely not push myself to learn a new language in the foreseeable future, and I’d learn so much beyond my program of study. Truthfully, the largest benefits are hard to put into words, and they differ for every person, as they may be mostly intangible. The ways you learn and grow as a person with this type of a program is much richer than backpacking and snapping shots of the highlights of each destination you visit. You go through the ups and downs of cultural adjustment, setting up a new network of relationships, and going much deeper into getting to know your surrounding communities than if you were a tourist. By going through this exciting process, you learn more about yourself and the world by expanding your bubble. It is harder to go through than a shorter period away but it results in an experience and growth impossible to replicate through a less intense undertaking.

Maybe you’ll find a new educational or career path, a person you want to start a business with or marry, a cause you want to pursue, or a new passion for something you never would have taken up in Canada. I had always wanted to grow and push myself and so taking the leap was less about faith and more about knowing that regardless of where I went or what I did in Germany, I would definitely grow and learn. With one year away from my home university, not all that much changed. The grad schools I was interested in, the recruiters who visit campus every year, the job opportunities – they were all still there when I returned. This international fellowship program pushed me to new heights and added breadth to my perspectives and worldview.

Instead of exploring the “why you can’t”, explore the “why not”. I implore you to evaluate what may be pulling you back from applying and consider if it’s fear and self-doubt holding you back or obstacles that truly cannot be solved. In the end you must want to fully commit to this opportunity, but it also will take a bit of pushing yourself to pursue it. I came to realize that it was fear of the unknown and of leaving my place of comfort that was the main drawback when I was considering applying for the fellowship. Now I am writing to say unequivocally that embarking on this journey was more than worth it.