Growth across 9 European countries: Isaac Stepped Outside.

Isaac' 23
“What if I step beyond my comfort zone and leave my friends and family, my belongings, and the familiar environments behind?”
As I sit here, writing this reflection, I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes: "If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you." What has manifested itself as one of the most impactful years of my life all started with the thought of ‘what if?’ Good or bad?" I asked. What if I step beyond my comfort zone and leave my friends and family, my belongings, and the familiar environments behind? What if I take this risk and become challenged by something I’m not accustomed to? What if this? What if that? In hindsight, a lot of this was driven by fear but also by curiosity. I didn’t know if I would find "my people". I didn’t know if I would settle in and live comfortably with someone else. I didn’t even know if taking a gap year was the best decision for my "career path". Notably, being situated in Switzerland, this program grants me the opportunity to pursue something that is rarely accessible to most individuals; and I am sincerely grateful and appreciative of this privilege. 

I believe we miss out on every opportunity for an experience that life has to offer by remaining in the light and comfort of familiarity. For me, that was exactly my ultimatum: stay in Stouffville, engulfed in this comfort, or venture outside my comfort zone and take this insane opportunity. And that’s exactly what I did. This transformative experience offered me numerous opportunities for personal growth and self-discovery. And to be frank, it is incredibly difficult to summarize all the things I have learned; however, here are three things that I believe enhanced my growth as a person, student, and friend here at NJC: language skills, adaptability, and self-discovery.

School has always been a top priority of mine. As a French immersion student, my education has taught me the importance of hard work, discipline, and communication skills. In Neuchâtel, studying abroad means living in a French-speaking community, which was awesome for me. Daily tasks and activities like interacting with locals, having conversations with my pension, and communicating with my hockey teammates provided me with the opportunity to significantly improve my French skills. Although it was daunting and challenging at times, I improved a lot. Back home in my French immersion classes, we put a lot of emphasis on grammar, vocabulary, and reading, but never speaking. And in my first couple of days here, I quickly realized my lack of oral skills and struggled to articulate myself. I was frustrated, to say the least. How could I have spent 12 years studying French and fumble my words in simple conversations? I had no clue; however, I decided not to be discouraged and ashamed but rather to embrace the challenge. I found myself being insatiably interested in ameliorating my speaking skills, throwing myself into challenging conversations with my hockey teammates and coaches, and asking for help from my pension and roommates whenever fit. And now, looking back, I can truly say that being immersed daily enhanced my fluency, vocabulary, and overall communication skills. These improvements helped me become more open-minded and adventurous, forced me to think outside the box, and boosted my self-confidence.

By navigating the experiences and challenges of living in Switzerland, studying abroad as an 18-year-old cultivates adaptability. Life in Canada versus life in Switzerland is very different, and if you’re not expecting it, it can catch you off-guard. From small changes—like what you eat, changes in classroom sizes, etc.—to big changes—like living independently for the first time, unfamiliar environments, and living in a new home—it forced me to be more flexible, open-minded, resourceful, and discover a newfound independence. My experience on the U20 Neuchâtel hockey team helped me improve my adaptability. In fact, it would be difficult to write this reflection without mentioning the impact it had. This team provided me with countless opportunities to develop my skills as a hockey player and push my competitive boundaries. Additionally, it taught me to adapt to the "Swiss" style of play and the values found in showing up and bringing my best every day, which has truly shaped my journey as a young athlete on and off the ice. Moreover, it has taught me that even when it becomes difficult to adapt to your environment, you should remain positive and always envision bigger and better things.

Being away from familiar surroundings and routines provides an ideal environment for self-reflection and self-discovery and exposes you to a broader global perspective. Some of the best memories I had this year were being able to explore all that Europe had to offer. I was able to visit 9 different countries! If you had told me that a year ago, I would have thought you were crazy. All these experiences, unique and special in their own way, gave me insights into different cultures, histories, and ways of life and challenged many preconceived notions I had. For example, I had the preconceived notion that Greece was an extremely poor nation in a lot of debt, but I was quickly surprised to find a culture and people full of life. Everyone was kind and helpful, and there was a sense of a collective society with strong loyalty, which is the opposite of what I had imagined, for some reason. Additionally, these trips uncovered some new passions of mine and rekindled old ones I had let go of. For example, the various museums and art galleries we had the privilege of visiting made me question why I gave up my habit of sketching and drawing and inspired me to pick it up again. Furthermore, I developed a clearer sense of my values and goals and gained a greater understanding of my strengths and weaknesses as a person. Moreover, I gained clarity on my post-secondary goals and which university courses I wanted to apply for. Overall, all these fascinating trips made me accept and understand who I am and why I do what I do; this in turn improved my self-esteem, self-awareness, and relationships.

With deep gratitude, I end my pre-university schooling at Neuchâtel Junior College. It’s difficult to express all that this year has meant to me. Among many things, it has taught me that when struggling with something, do not be discouraged and ashamed but rather embrace the challenge; it has taught me to be adaptable to my surroundings and try new things; and to try new activities and explore my interests. With all the wisdom and knowledge I've accumulated over this year, I'm confident I'll be able to apply it to my next step at Queen's University. I am very fortunate to be part of the NJC family, and I will forever hold this year close to my heart.
Thank you for everything NJC!

Isaac is heading to Queen’s University to study Commerce in Fall 2023. 

Neuchâtel Junior College offers the unique opportunity to study Canadian curriculum abroad. While living in Switzerland in a French community, students enjoy an international education through travel and experiential learning in Europe. Gap year and Grade 12  high school students gain international experience and develop independence and life skills that prepare them for university and the global workplace.

A Canadian high school in Switzerland | Grade 12 & Gap