What comes to mind when you think of summer? Going to the beach? Sleeping in? Travelling to places far from home? Or maybe it’s all the above, with the relief that you won’t have to worry about deadlines and exams. But for Joshua Luu, travelling was perhaps the thought he resonated the most with last summer.
On the second-floor patio of SE2, the sun beams brilliantly overhead.
After days of intermittent rain, the clear skies come as a pleasant surprise, like a quiet promise that summer is near despite the sharp chill of spring lingering in the air. Cherry blossoms flutter in mid-bloom all around campus. The scenery somehow fits the occasion perfectly, and as I sit across from Joshua to chat about his summer term in Europe, I’m sure he’s thinking the same, too.
Joshua is as hardworking of a student as any at BCIT. He is currently in his final year of the Business Operations Management program and has been serving as the Chair of the School of Business + Media. He tells me he’s an avid animation and graphic design hobbyist as well, having worked with applications like Photoshop, After Effects, Source Filmmaker, and Blender.
Despite his busy schedule, he still dedicates his time to volunteering within various communities, such as being a Global Education Ambassador (GEA) with the BCIT Global Relations Office. It’s a role that mainly involves informing students about available exchange programs, but Joshua’s responsibilities additionally include creating marketing materials, hosting trivia tables, and organizing events for international students studying at BCIT.
Importantly, being a GEA is how Joshua had the opportunity to study abroad in Sweden and Switzerland last year, an option offered only to the volunteers at the time. And for him, the decision to go was an easy one to make: “I’ve always loved travelling. I’ve always wanted to explore new places and loved meeting new people. So, it was really valuable to [get] that opportunity.”
Joshua’s first destination was Sweden, where he was enrolled in a July course at Linköping University (LiU): Leadership and Organizational Behaviour in Contemporary Organizations. Once that program concluded, he was off to Basel, Switzerland for a two-week class in August: Innovation and Competitiveness in Business. This was at the FHNW University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland.
The great thing about these international courses, Joshua says, is that they can be credited towards BCIT programs and degrees; all that nitty-gritty work is sorted by the Global Relations Office. But better yet, since the classes he took were relatively easy, Joshua had more time to explore Sweden and Switzerland and connect with other international students.
“There [were] 150 students from across the world coming in just to do these [courses] and meet together,” Joshua says, noting the big welcome dinner with Swedish food at LiU, the first of several events facilitated by the program. “I met people from all across the world—from the UK, Germany, Spain, France, [and] all the way from throughout Asia [like] Singapore, Malaysia, China. And there were some people in smaller numbers from across the US and a few from Canada, [including] Toronto.”
Aside from university-arranged activities, “students also came up with their own little events,” Joshua says. “There were small group chats everywhere. I remember there was this one group chat that was doing late-night volleyball [and] there was a sand volleyball pit in the campus area. So, we’d just text and chat and [go like], ‘Hey guys, wanna do volleyball?’” Sometimes, they would gather to spend a day at the beach, visit a museum, or tour a nearby city.
There was a night a few of them went to see a music performance. “One of the German [students] found a nearby café in the city that was doing a little jazz band,” Joshua says. “So, [we] gathered a small group of friends—some guys from Spain, the UK, Germany, and some from Singapore as well. We all went to that little café, grabbed some cake, coffee, and listened to some jazz. That was really fun.”
Many students hosted small dinner parties in the dorms as well, Joshua adds. He recalls how there were lots of amazing cooks among the group, and they would often share and try different cuisines. But apart from those homemade meals, did he have any restaurant recommendations in the cities he visited?
“I’m sure we ate around in some places,” Joshua says, his face scrunched, deep in thought. “We were constantly trying new things and jump[ing] around. Though if anything, it was more interesting to eat the food that other students were cooking.” He lists a few he remembers in particular: Singaporean noodles and other Asian specialties, as well as various German dishes. “It was cool to try new foods, because I eat a lot of rice [here] at home, but I think I went the entire month and a half hardly even eating rice at all.”
From playing late-night volleyball to seeing a jazz band, going to the beach, exploring different places, and sharing cultures through food, Joshua had his weeks filled with new memories. There were rarely days where he wasn’t out and about; the only times he stayed in his dorm were to study.
And with how fun his experiences sound, it seems as if there weren’t any hiccups during his trip. Perhaps he’s travelled alone before?
“No, that was the first time, so it was a bit daunting,” Joshua replies, much to my surprise. He then relays his complicated itinerary: Vancouver to Frankfurt, then Frankfurt to Stockholm, and from there, a train to Linköping. Then, to get to Switzerland, he went through the same route but in reverse, and then left from Frankfurt to Basel. Flying back was a similar story—Basel to Frankfurt, then home to Vancouver.
It was a plan that must have taken dedication to map out and carry through. Even then, not everything was smooth sailing: Joshua mentions how he had his gate terminal changed multiple times at Frankfurt Airport, as well as how he had hopped on the “wrong but right” train going to Linköping.
“I [also] made a very grave mistake,” he confesses. “I completely forgot that Europe uses different chargers. So, I brought a bunch of chargers from here, and when I [got] there, I was like, ‘shit.’”
(Well, on the bright side, his airlines didn’t lose his luggage. Though it did unfortunately happen to someone he met from Sweden, who then had to buy new clothes and other necessities for the entire trip.)
There were other struggles, too: “I certainly walked around [Linköping] a lot and then couldn’t figure out where I was. The transit system was [also] a little more difficult than I imagined, but that’s because I just wasn’t used to it. It was a nice city, though—kind of like a square, and [spanning around] 20 blocks. A small, pretty quiet city.” And expensive, he sighs. Very expensive.
Did he encounter any big culture shocks along the way?
“[Sweden and Switzerland are] very similar to Canada, [so] there wasn’t much of a difference…the biggest culture shock was the cost.” Joshua laughs, though he does mention a few interesting facts he learned from other students—the Swedish are relatively quiet people; the Spanish take siestas (naps) throughout the day and tend to eat dinner late; the Taiwanese celebrate Christmas with KFC; and not all Germans observe Oktoberfest.
He then notes how difficult it was to wrap his head around the currency conversion between Swedish kronor and Canadian dollars, which made mentally calculating prices a baffling task. “You’re just like, ‘I need to survive. Here you go.’”
While studying abroad is a great way to explore new cities and experience different cultures, travelling halfway across the world alone can be scary, especially when it’s for the first time. But along with all the potential challenges—tricky transit systems, complicated flight routes, currency conversion troubles—there’s growth, too.
“The one thing when you study abroad is: you’re going to meet people and that [will] probably [be] the most memorable of all,” Joshua says. Even now, he keeps in touch with the friends he made abroad. “You’re going to make some really cool connections and meet people from [all] across the world, and that’s something I think is already in itself an amazing experience. That was probably the most amount of growth I had.”
Then, laughing, he adds, “When you’re put in a situation to survive alone…it doesn’t matter if you can’t do it, you will do it.”
Heading into this summer, Joshua plans to take a few courses and work part-time before continuing his studies in September to earn his Bachelor’s in Business Administration. He may take another term abroad in the future—in either Japan or Korea—but will focus on saving up for now.
To this, I ask for advice he could give to students wanting to study abroad but may be on the fence, perhaps due to the cost. Joshua highly suggests applying for scholarships, as that was how he alleviated the expenses for his trip. BCIT offers quite a few scholarships specifically for students going on exchange.
“It’s not easy,” Joshua admits, understanding why students may still hesitate. “Though I’d say it’s one of those things that’s once in a lifetime, [and] especially once you get a job, you can’t really do this kind of thing again.” Plus, you’ll get to form a global network with the people you’ll meet and experience different natural landscapes and architecture. “It really is once in a lifetime. Just a variety of experiences you’ll get there that you won’t get here.”
The memories you make will last a lifetime, too. Even almost a year later, Joshua looks back on those moments with fondness: playing volleyball, discovering cuisines, hopping from city to city, train to train, dorm to dorm.
And with adventures like those, it’s all about living in the moment. As Joshua puts it, “We live through those sorts of things and we kind of forget, but we’ll [continue to] remember bits and pieces here and there.”
Above us, the sun seems to gleam in agreement.