History, Mount Allison University (Sackville, N.B.), Mid Sweden University, Sundsvall, 2012
The pitch: “Understanding what is important to people in other countries can be greatly beneficial in becoming a good global citizen. It is also a wonderful way to prove to yourself that you are capable of surviving on your own and of carving out a life for yourself wherever you go. It is an amazing confidence-booster.”
Highlight: “A field trip with an ecology course I was taking – we drove across Sweden into Norway, and I got to see the amazing scenery of these countries and even climb a mountain.”
Caveat: “Conversing with Swedes was usually not much of a problem, but bureaucracy is even harder to get through when paperwork, e-mails and the like are all in a language you don’t understand. Being so far removed from your family, friends and familiar surroundings can also be quite difficult. Though on the flip side, it’s very exciting to be able to reinvent yourself among people who don’t have preconceived notions of you. I also found it much more difficult to regulate my finances while abroad; being removed from my normal habits made me inclined to spend more money.”
Need to know
How do I pay for it? Exchange students pay tuition to their home school, so you don’t have to worry about dealing with a foreign institution. But you’ll still be responsible for airfare, accommodations and living expenses while you’re overseas.
Are there scholarships available? Federal funding is almost non-existent, but many schools help defray the costs for students. Talk to your school’s international study office to get the details.
Will an international exchange count toward my degree? In most cases, yes. Universities across Canada have international agreements with foreign schools that allow you to transfer your credits to your home school and, in most cases, your marks count toward your GPA.
Do I have to go for an entire semester? No. Among the numerous short-term opportunities to study abroad are summer academic programs, international internships and volunteer opportunities. At Mount Allison, for instance, 100 or so undergrads who hope to go to med school volunteer at a clinic in Honduras during spring break. It might not count as credit, but it sure looks great on a résumé or grad-school application.
What about inter-provincial exchanges? The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada is just as keen to send students across the country as it is to send them across the ocean, since 90 per cent of Canadian undergrads attend postsecondary school in their home province – a big chunk of them within 20 kilometres of home. Mount A’s president Robert Campbell is a big believer in exploring Canada’s diversity before you venture overseas. “The value of an international education is transcendentally obvious,” he says. “But you’ve never seen the Rockies, you’ve never been to northern Canada, yet you’ve been to Honduras? There’s something a little off about that. The coastline of Ireland is beautiful, but, what, Cape Breton is chopped liver?”