On Oct. 22, just 17 days after cancelling all student exchanges for the Winter 2022 term, McGill announced that exchanges would be reinstated. This development came a day after Global Affairs Canada lifted the non-essential travel advisory, which McGill based their travel rules on amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the return of exchange programs was met with student enthusiasm, the backtracking was frustrating for some who had made alternate plans following the initial cancellation.
McGill Abroad, the office that coordinates exchanges, contacted students on Oct. 22, asking them to confirm whether they were still interested in participating in their planned programs during the upcoming winter semester. Students were asked to make their decision by Oct. 27 and were told that they would receive confirmation about whether their exchange will go forth during the week of Nov. 1, once McGill Abroad coordinates with their partner institution.
In an email to The McGill Tribune, Frédérique Mazerolle, a McGill media relations officer, explained the implications of Canada’s updated travel advisory, noting that McGill is trying its best to coordinate the exchanges, but that some may not work.
“With the removal of the global travel advisory, McGill will be able to return to pre-pandemic travel conditions, allowing for freer movement of students, faculty and staff,” Mazerolle wrote. “Although we cannot guarantee that it will be possible, McGill is working with students and partner universities with the aim of making it possible for students to proceed with their exchanges.”
Many students were excited by McGill’s announcement, including Juliette Debray, U3 Engineering and co-creator of a petition that called for the reinstatement of Winter 2022 exchanges. While Debray was happy to hear about the reversal, she also acknowledged the negative impacts of McGill’s “hasty” decision to cancel them in the first place.
“Obviously, I’m really happy,” Debray said. “But, I know I am lucky in the sense that the only decision I made in between was [changing flights]. I know people that signed leases [in Montreal] for their winter semester and so now will have to deal with that if they […] go on [an] exchange [….] McGill said they were not going to change their mind [about winter exchanges] and then they did.”
Debray also has a theory that other universities, such as the University of British Columbia, timed their announcements on Winter 2022 exchanges under the assumption that Global Affairs Canada was going to adjust their travel advisory. Debray suggested McGill should have done the same.
Some students, like Max Garcia, U2 Arts and the other co-creator of the petition, were worried about meeting the deadlines set by their host university and about obtaining proper immigration documents in time. The application deadline for Garcia’s intended host university, Sciences Po, in France, had already passed when McGill back-tracked on their cancellation.
“The office contacted me and all the other students who had planned to go to Sciences Po as we missed the application deadline [due to the cancellation],” Garcia said in an interview with the Tribune. “It is a quick turnaround, so I hope we can all get our visa applications through.”
Debray and Garcia’s petition garnered over 800 signatures from students frustrated by McGill’s initial cancellation. Garcia believes it may have played a role in McGill’s decision to reinstate exchanges.
“I think [the petition] had a real impact in mobilizing students to express their frustration with the administration’s decision,” Garcia said. “I was really happy along with everyone else [about the reinstation]. I am just glad it all ended well and we are able to go abroad.”