Ask any student how they feel about the semester coming to an end and most will say they’re relieved. Ask any exchange student, and you’ll get a different answer entirely.
With December well and truly here my semester abroad is coming to an end, and it’s fair to say I’m sad to be leaving.
Being an exchange student is so much more than studying in another country. You are constantly learning from every person that you meet and you never stop being surprised.
I left Scotland with no knowledge of Canadian culture other than a love of ice hockey and maple syrup.
I leave Calgary with an unexpected appreciation for the incredible scenery of the Rockies, deep-rooted history of the First Nations and unexpected microculture of line dancing in Alberta.
Student exchange is like extreme travelling. Not only do you have months to see every tourist attraction, natural wonder and cultural event imaginable but you also get to experience Canada like an everyday Canadian.
Small things that surprised me on this trip include:
- French and English text on all packaging
- How quickly snow is cleared from the roads
- -10° is not considered cold by the majority
- Mobile prices are so high for no apparent reason
- It can be almost three times as expensive to fly from Calgary to Vancouver as it is to fly from Edinburgh to London, despite being almost the same distance.
- Marijuana is legal
Most surprising of all was how much I learned from other exchange students. I’ve learned Columbian dance, eaten Mexican food and drank Spanish wine. I’ve talked to Austrians about their universities, Asians about their languages and Englishmen about their faiths.
There are of course downsides to exchange. If you’re used to living in your own apartment and driving your own car like I was, moving back into student residence and relying on public transport for four months feels like a step backwards.
If you fall ill, it could end up costing you hundreds of dollars for services you would normally get for free. Although your insurance should refund the costs you’ll most likely be home before you get your money back.
You also spend most of the trip feeling like a first-year student. A new university means a new campus so finding your way around the halls that your classmates have been navigating for years can be a challenge.
Depending on the class, you may spend the whole semester reminding the professor you’re on exchange and don’t have the same knowledge as your classmates. Sentences like ‘we covered this last semester’ or ‘you’re all familiar with this’ become infuriating.
The benefits of exchange, however, far outweigh the drawbacks and if I could I would definitely do it again. By the time your semester is done, you feel like you’re leaving one home to return to another.
I would say to any student at Mount Royal that if you have even a hint of wanderlust to apply for exchange. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
5 tips when going on exchange
- Research, research, research
Learn as much about your destination as you can, especially when it comes to the cost of living. No matter how much you think you know about a place, there will always be surprises. The best you can do is be as informed as possible.
- Make sure to bring starting cash.
It took almost three weeks before my funds arrived in Canada and I found myself stuck with only $20 to spare. Make sure to bring at least $300 equivalent in cash with you to set yourself up in your new home.
- Experience as much as you can but always prioritise school
It’s easy to forget you’re not just on a four-month-long vacation but at the end of the day, you are there to learn. As a rule of thumb, if you would say no to finish an assignment back home, say no abroad.
- Meet the locals
Each group of exchange students become like family as you explore the country together, but if you want an authentic experience, get to know the local students too. They can show you the ropes and all the best bars at the same time.
- Make memories you can look back on
Take pictures, write a journal, save your snap stories. Whatever your methods, make sure you leave yourself something to look back on and remind yourself of all the great times you’ve had.