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  • Writer's pictureIne Vandenwyngaert

How studying abroad transformed me

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

“Studying abroad unlocked a new version of me that I never met before. And I liked him.”

Zac’s Story

Growing up, my family went on weekend trips all the time. We would drive our van to Oregon for the weekend and go skiing, float on the river or go hiking. Whatever we could to enjoy the great outdoors in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. On Sunday night, we would catch the last boat back to Vashon Island (near Seattle) and get ready for another week of school and work. For me, this lasted for years until I reached middle school and started to focus on competitive sports. The weekends soon became filled with sporting events for my sister and I, making our road trips few and far between.

For me, this concept of the “sports weekend” lasted until I was 29. My time at University was consumed by basketball games and training while my 5 years of post-graduate work included marketing and working at sporting events at the University of Victoria. I had a great time and learned a lot during those years. I met great people who I’ve become lifelong friends with and made some of the best memories. However, there was a 16-year gap where my adventurous soul was hibernating. At the bottom of my heart, I knew there was more of the world to see than sports and working a 9-5 job. That’s when I stumbled upon UVic's Master of Global Business program (MGB). This 1-year course included studying in Canada, the Netherlands, and Peru for 3 months each, finishing with an internship abroad. I learned countless lessons from these travels and after completing my studies, I can now look back and share them. My hope is that it encourages you to study abroad as well if you have the chance but are weighing your options.

Studying abroad transformed me
A weekend on the coast of France! Photo credit: Kiana Nip

I was pushed out of my comfort zone

Before I started my master's program, I worked at the University of Victoria. After 5 years, I knew the ins and outs of the position pretty well. While it was a dynamic and always changing role, I couldn’t help but feel I was repeating the same learnings year after year. I didn’t feel like I was growing and I was getting very comfortable. When I got into the Master of Global Business program, I felt like I was finally being pushed again. In the classroom, I was learning new global concepts that were eye-opening for me.

But it wasn’t only in the classroom where I was learning new things at a rapid rate. It was also when I landed in the Netherlands for the first time and lost my luggage. Or when I tried to rent a room in Peru and realized there were no ATM’s or card readers in the small town I was in. Or when I hiked rainbow mountain at 5,200m and battled through lack of oxygen to reach the summit. I had to think on my feet and get through these situations. These real-life lessons became a true wealth of learning opportunities that brought me to a greater understanding of myself and the world we live in.

Rainbow Mountain Peru
Summiting the magnificent rainbow mountain in Peru

I learned differently

Each university in the MGB program also had a different style of teaching. For instance, UVic in Canada was very structured with 5 classes and constant quizzes, while the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands had a problem-based learning approach where the students would have more control of the classes. Teachers would have a structure of what they wanted you to learn and then students would teach it to themselves with minimal input from the teacher unless things got off track. It was much more of an individualized learning approach that took discipline and helped me develop a better individual work-ethic. In Peru, CENTRUM university was very formal and group-based. Our whole goal was to deliver a successful thesis for a real company that we met with every week. We had to adapt our business approach to more relationship-building than in Canada and Europe in order to deliver the solution successfully. It was a huge difference and gave me a well-rounded perspective on how to learn and communicate in South America.

Studying abroad
Experiencing the "love" in Barcelona!

I met new life-long friends

In class, we were split into groups that included people from all over the world. The class comprised 40 students from all across Europe, Africa, Peru, North America, India, and Asia. It was a challenge to understand each other at first due to language barriers, and second because of cultural differences. Even though we were all very different, it was actually these differences that brought us together.

Before the program, I never had true friends who were from other countries outside of the US or Canada. Of course, I had conversations in passing with people who were from outside of those countries, but nothing in-depth. In my studies, I was able to really understand where some of my classmates were from, their likes and dislikes, and what they valued highly in their cultures. It opened my mind to what other people from around the world cared about and formed bonds with new friends that will last a lifetime. I even met my girlfriend (Ine) in the program!

UVic Master of Global Business 2018
Our MGB class of 2018

I relied on myself

Since the program involved traveling to new countries every three months, there were a lot of moving parts. We had to find accommodation on our own, book our own flights and transport, and basically live life in a new country without the help of the schools themselves. We also all wanted to travel in our free time while we were in those new countries. You can imagine how many things we had to plan and organize on our own during these times!

While back then it was hard and time-consuming to think about all of those variables, it was also super beneficial to my development. For instance, I had to book housing at Maastricht University prior to arriving at the school. I did research into what the best parts of the city were, the culture of the Netherlands, proximity to grocery stores, biking lane accessibility, etc. Once I picked my location and arrived in Maastricht, I had to figure out the train transportation, taxi, and where to rent a bike. It was all new for me as the last time I had done anything like that was 8 years prior to the program when I started my undergrad studies at UVic. Doing it all in a new country was a challenge for me, but gave me a huge boost in self-confidence that I could do it all on my own and be successful.

Studying abroad Maastricht University
The sunset view near my housing in Maastricht. I picked the right spot!

I discovered my true passions

The most valuable thing that I learned from studying abroad was what my true passions were. Before studying, I had been competing and working in the sports world for 16 years straight. While I was passionate about sports and enjoyed bringing people together to celebrate sporting events and living a healthy lifestyle, I felt I had reached a plateau of learning. With the MGB program, I took a risk of getting out of my comfortable working life and letting myself see what piqued my interest. And I found that my true passions revolved around experiencing new adventures. Every time I traveled to a new destination in the program, my soul was filled with joy as I learned about the cultures, activities, destinations, and daily life in that area.

There was one moment in Peru that sticks out in my mind as a life-changing event. We were studying near Lima which was notoriously grey during that time of the year. The rest of the country seemed to be sunny most of the time, so myself and a couple of classmates decided to look into a new destination to explore on the weekend. We zeroed in on Marcahuasi, an off-the-beaten-path hiking area that led to a rock forest 4,100 meters high with mysterious faces carved into the rocks. There was barely any tourism information on the place. We were hooked!

Since there was no direct transportation to the hike, we had to wake up at 5 am to get a local taxi an hour outside the city, then catch a small local bus from a town nearby which took 3 hours to get to the base of the hike. Then, we hiked another six hours to get up to the rock formations and back. The rocks were like something we had never seen before, with shapes that were out of this world. When we got back to our hostel for the night, we couldn’t help but laugh at what a wild adventure it was and smile. At that moment, I felt truly alive and knew that adventures were what I was born for.

Marcahuasi Peru
Walking amongst the rock faces in Marcahuasi

Studying abroad changed my life

After everything I learned studying abroad and seeing how other people from around the world viewed life, I knew my own perspective had changed. I saw things from a different point of view and experienced new adventures that left me feeling fulfilled while traveling. I felt truly happy knowing that I could rely on myself to get through tough situations and felt new growth as a person. Studying abroad unlocked a new version of me that I never met before. And I liked him.

These life-changing experiences shaped the person I am today and I’m happy that my new life goals include helping others find their own travel inspiration. I truly believe that travel has changed my life positively and I hope that I can help others find that too by working together with Ine on World Wild Hearts.


People all around the world have had life-changing travel experiences. Whether it's studying abroad, traveling for leisure, working abroad, or living abroad! Check out more of our Travel Stories.

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World Wild Hearts

Hi! We are Ine & Zac. An international travel couple from Belgium and the US. We created World Wild Hearts to inspire new adventures and help you plan your next trip. Use these tips, stories, and guides to inspire your next adventure of a lifetime!


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