Oct 30, 2012

Life on exchange

An Australian exchange student gives us the inside scoop on studying abroad

Amy Fogarty

Life on exchange
The University of Melbourne is one of many student exchange destinations. (wikipedia.org)

The symptoms: sleeping in lectures, cramming for exams, dreaming about the holidays instead of writing your term papers. The diagnosis: you are officially stuck in a rut. The cure: exchange.

Choose your destination, sign the forms, and never look back. Being a student at McGill brings you endless opportunities to study all over the world. Just imagine what is out there waiting to be discovered.

I am currently on exchange this fall semester from the University of Melbourne, one of the many institutions with which McGill is partnered. I embarked on this journey to satisfy my craving for adventure. I had zero ties to Canada, let alone McGill; it is miles from my home, and most importantly has a completely opposite climate to which I am acustomed.

Choosing McGill was a spontaneous decision; I was browsing the catalogue when I came across a picture of the Roddick gates in the winter. Mesmerized by the snow,  I made my decision right then and there. As an arts student my degree is very flexible, so I was able to go basically anywhere. Depending on your faculty, this may require some more research.

1. Applying.

The application process has multiple steps, but none of them are too difficult. Knowing that each form you complete brings you closer to escaping abroad makes the whole process that much easier to bear.

I had to choose courses at McGill equivalent to my degree and my major, and each was assessed by a faculty advisor. This part requires the most research. If possible, I would recommend taking courses that are new and different from classes you’ve taken before. Stepping out of your comfort zone is what going on exchange is all about, after all. Just because your major is political science, doesn’t mean you should not take a course in African drumming!  After the list of courses is approved, the rest of your application is pretty much smooth sailing.

2. Housing.

You’ve picked your university and the flights are booked. What’s the next step? A place to live ranks pretty high on the list of priorities. McGill does not offer any on-residence living—unless you are a first-year or a floor fellow—so it was up to me to find it myself. A combination of Craigslist, timing, and pure luck provided me with an awesome apartment in the McGill ghetto with great roommates.

However, this will not always be the case for everyone, so I have some important tips. If the school that you have applied for does not offer housing, and you are required to find it yourself, start early, send thousands of emails, and check daily. This will give you the most options and choices for places to live. It’s a much more favourable position than living out of your suitcase for the first two weeks in a hostel, or spending your days exploring apartments instead of your new city.

Alternatively, if you are offered residence, just be sure it is what you want. If you cannot picture yourself in a dorm with overly enthusiastic first year students, then maybe finding a student apartment is a better option.

3. Take advantage.

Now that that the housing box is checked off, you are ready to embrace your new life and your new school. It’s terrifying, but amazing! I have been here for two months, and every day I still look forward to the surprises Montreal has in store.

In order to make the most of your stay, I would suggest jumping on every opportunity. Take advantage of weekends and get onboard all of the trips offered by your school’s exchange students group. Try not to think about money too much if you can avoid it. Money can be made later, but these experiences are a once in a lifetime. When it comes to the studying, this is entirely dependent on your degree. Many students will be taking classes on a pass/fail basis as part of their exchange, so when a 65 per cent means the same as a 95 per cent, make the most of this. Complete the work that is required of course, but your weekend destinations should be new and foreign cities, not your desk or the library.

It is never too early to begin researching, comparing, and deciding potential exchange destinations. You may not consider yourself the exchange type, but with so many options there will be something out there that suits you. So go ahead and immerse yourself in a brand new place. Good luck, and safe travels.

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