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Going on Exchange: The "Where", the "When", and the "How"

Midterms may have ended, but exam season is not over yet as we are still hard at work with acing those finals in view. However, for all those graduating students out there such as myself, the added stress of applying to our dream grad school makes it harder to juggle the rapidly increasing number of deadlines. With all that's been going on I haven't had much time to write new blog posts. Then, I realized that around this time of the semester last year, I was busy making plans to go on Exchange and was filled with excitement as I was scanning Uni after Uni, thinking about how much fun awaits at the end of the rainbow. With this in mind, I thought it may be a good idea to write some tips for you guys, to help those thinking about studying abroad. So here it is: My review article on the process of applying for an Exchange or, as I like to call it, "Taking the first steps: The "Where", the "When" and the "How"!

In this blog post, I will touch upon issues regarding the exchange process and my own experience of studying abroad.

Why go on Exchange?

I know planning an Exchange might seem like a whole lotta work at first, and students could get discouraged by the length of the process, the distances between countries, the cost, or by the anxiety associated with being on your own for an extended period of time. Things may look hectic at first, but once you put your mind to it, you will see they fall into place. The good news is you have already taken that first important step: thinking about studying abroad (yay, we are already getting closer to the finish line!). Now what you have to do is decide if this is the right thing for you. Hopefully, this article will help dissipate some of the anxiety and myths associated with going to study abroad.

Think about it this way: you have the tremendous possibility to do two great things that not a lot of people get the opportunity to do: study and travel, so enjoy... Trust me, it goes by so fast! Do things you wouldn't necessarily do back home, go travel, make plans and connect with people.

Let's start at the beginning:

-The Where

Don't wait too long to start looking at Universities:

Start by picking a few countries that you would be interested in travelling to. Don't forget you are going there primarily to study, so pick countries where you would be comfortable living for a longer period of time, and picture yourself going to school there. For example, Germany might sound super fun..but if the universities there do not offer courses in English, and in your major, it might not be the best place for you (Germany is really cool though, and a lot of classes ARE offered in English, so do not cross it off your list as I merely used it as an example; it all depends on the classes you need to take).

Search for courses that would best fit your program. Some Universities let you take electives while on Exchange and this is a great opportunity to look for courses not offered back home! Not all universities offer equivalent courses and if you need to take a specific number of core courses, make sure they will get credited back home. Take for example accounting: upper year courses offered abroad in this program will not get credited in Canada because of differences in legislation and same goes for law. Some programs, such as Biology, will be more flexible, but you still have to be careful because a "Genetics" course at one University might be deemed as insufficient to credit your "Genetics" course back home. This is the reason why you have to look for universities that offer AT LEAST 6-7 classes you are interested in taking.

Many universities will offer similar 1st and 2nd year classes.

-The When

Think about the length of your Exchange

1 or 2 semesters is the question...While not all universities will let you do a full year exchange, some give you the choice of doing a one-semester exchange or a full year one. You also have to decide if you want to go to the same place or if you want to do two different exchanges (meaning two separate countries). I, for example, went to England for my first semester and then to California for my second one.

One semester could be great for people who don't want to feel like they missed a lot back home (don't forget life goes on back home even if you are not there...). However, time goes by so fast and, speaking from experience, people generally opt for a full year Exchange to truly get settled in in their host countries, make friends and have a "full" experience. The people I've talked to who went abroad for one semester told me they wished they had stayed longer!

To do: make a list of potential Unis and courses (the more the better, as not all courses will be available).

-The How

Start Applying:

The next step is to begin applying, start writing your letter of intent and meet with the exchange coordinator at your home Uni. Depending on your university, you might have to schedule a meeting with your Dean or professors to get your course selection approved (as I mentioned earlier, not all professors will approve your courses). Do not hesitate to contact your host universities; they might be able to help you more than you think!

Make plans!

It really helped me to make travel plans at the same time as I was going through the application process so that I can keep up that excitement. Find something awesome about your potential host unis and focus on that! See if they have a sports team you would like to join, clubs, or great places to visit near them. What makes your host country/Uni great??!

Final words of wisdom:

Don't be afraid to take the leap, it will look great on your resume and will give you a new perspective on life. Trust in the people that are there to help you and dedicate yourself to the project. Enjoy the experience, make friends, take pictures, and create memories that will last you a lifetime. The cost might seem high but remember, some universities let you pay your home tuition and even offer travel grants (the Quebec government offers bursaries too!). Grants are advantageous as they help pay most of your accommodation and living costs. Working during the summer is also a great way to save up some travel money!

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