I’m an American who went to college in Canada. I’m debt-free — and I have no plans to move back to the US.

    Dalia Goldberg credits her decision to study in Montreal with helping her learn a foreign language and graduate debt-free.

    Dalia Goldberg

    Dalia Goldberg chose to leave the US in 2010 to earn her BA at McGill University in Canada.During her four years in college, she experienced some culture shock and learned a new language.After graduating, she continued living abroad, is now happily settled in Spain, and has no debt. 

    It was 2009, my senior year of high school and I felt clueless.

    I’d never fit in particularly well at school. I enjoyed learning when I was younger, but toned down my enthusiasm when it became clear that having too many nerdy interests was “uncool.” So by the time some of my peers were eagerly filling out college applications and even discussing what they might choose as a major, I was still dragging my feet.

    I didn’t feel particularly excited about the future. What was the big deal about college, anyway? I’d just be studying the same old subjects, preparing for some job I didn’t really want. My parents took me on college visits, where we attended presentations that I listened to halfheartedly.

    Growing up in a Philadelphia suburb, the University of Miami caught my eye. I was enamored by the lush green campus filled with flowers and fountains, just a half-hour drive from South Beach. The distance from my hometown was an added bonus. But with a whopping cost of attendance of over $50,000 per year at the time (including fees, room, and board), I’d definitely have to take out student loans.

    Similarly, NYU offered the excitement of living in a big city, but the tuition fees nearing $60,000 per year were daunting.

    I began filling out applications to state schools, a more affordable option. But I couldn’t quite give up my dream of moving further away and having an adventure.

    I started looking into colleges outside the US

    I wanted to meet new people, explore new places, and get a fresh start. Maybe if I could get away from memories of middle-school bullies and awkward encounters with boys, I could finally start to enjoy studying again.

    My parents had bought me a big book of colleges, which I haphazardly flicked through while watching TV. Then, something caught my eye. Not all the colleges in the book were American; some were overseas, and those were cheaper, a lot cheaper.

    “Can I visit Trinity College Dublin?” I asked my parents. But they weren’t fans of this idea. Europe was far away, and going back and forth would be expensive. Would European degrees be valid in the US? There were too many variables.

    So I proposed a closer option: McGill University in Montreal. It was well-known in the US and just a 1.5 hour flight from Philadelphia. You could even take the train. The costs were significantly cheaper than my other favorites: around $25,000 for the year, including room and board.

    Deciding on Montreal came with challenges

    During my first visit to Montreal, I knew it was the place for me. I loved the narrow streets of the Old City, the plazas, the bars, and the restaurants. I also found the school appealing. I felt that this was a place where I’d be free to do things my way. I liked the independent approach to student life, with most students moving off-campus after their first year.

    When I went back to my high school, I pushed harder on my academic efforts than before. I studied hard in my French class, got a few letters of recommendation, and took the ACTs and SAT subject tests. Finally, I got the score I needed for admission.

    Leading up to graduation, I started to have cold feet. I’d be leaving all the friends I’d made in the last few years and starting completely from scratch. Did I really want to do this? Some friends thought it was cool that I was moving to Canada, but others found it odd. Even when I explained the lower costs, it sounded too far away to them.

    At first, the author (right) thought it would be hard to find her place at McGill but ended up making a lot of close friends.

    Dalia Goldberg

    When I got to Montreal, I didn’t feel comfortable right away. Like any college freshman, I was somewhat anxious about being away from home for the first time, but there was also the added element of culture shock.

    I’d become friends with a French exchange student at my high school and spent some time in France, but I soon found the language and expressions used in Quebec were a lot different. I also didn’t know much about Canadian culture — the slang, the history, the education system, and the way of viewing the world.

    At first, as I met groups of students who all knew each other from high school, I felt like it would be hard to find my place at McGill. Still, after a while, I found a good group of friends, got involved in city activities, and began feeling at home.

    Starting my career abroad

    After receiving my diploma four years later, I knew I wanted to stay abroad.

    I applied for a post-graduate work permit that allowed me to stay in Canada, and found a job at a marketing agency where I had to speak French every day. At first, I felt intimidated. I didn’t get some of the jokes and cultural references made around the office, so socializing was hard. Still, over time I began to feel more comfortable working in a second language.

    After a few years, I decided to move to Berlin with my partner at the time. It was hard to find work, learn German, and navigate the immigration system, but I drew on my previous experiences to help and found a remote job teaching English online. We continued moving around Europe until I settled in Spain in 2018, where I started a career as a freelance content writer and journalist.

    Moving abroad for my degree gave me the courage to pursue my own path. As I learned to figure out confusing visa situations, new cultures, and foreign language environments, I became more resilient and motivated in my career.

    Not having a student loan to pay off was an added bonus.

    Got a personal essay about choosing to attend college outside the US that you want to share? Get in touch with the editor: [email protected].

    Read the original article on Business Insider


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