Whether you’re interested in learning another language, gaining work experience, or simply experiencing another culture, McGill’s student exchange opportunities provide a vastly different student experience from the one in Montreal.
Currently, McGill has over 150 exchange partnerships with universities across Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania. Although each location offers a unique experience, all exchanges provide some common benefits.
“The experience is invaluable in that it teaches students about independence, other cultures, flexibility, [and the] ability to adapt to change,” Kelly Cassidy, a student advisor in the Faculty of Engineering, said. “Universities have different specialties [and] concentrations. An exchange can allow a student to get a taste for [a] specialty that perhaps they would not get at McGill or in Canada.”
According to Darlene Hnatchuk, director of McGill’s Career Planning Service (CaPS), an experience abroad doesn’t just provide students with an opportunity for personal growth; it also shows potential employers that you have valuable skills.
“If you have studied abroad, that means you have adapted to a new culture, a new way of doing things, a different type of structure or scheduling,” she said. “Studying abroad also means you’re quite a curious person. Employers seek curiosity in their employees as well because they want to innovate; they want to find new solutions to problems.”
McGill offers several different types of study abroad experiences. The most well-known programs are bilateral exchanges, in which you swap places with a student from one of McGill’s partner universities.
Although they still require a lot of advanced planning and paperwork, McGill is more involved in the process amd provides more support in bilateral exchanges. However, your choice of host university for a bilateral exchange is limited to the list of McGill’s partner institutions. While there are plenty to choose from, it is important to ensure that you apply to a university that accepts exchanges from your program.
“Some faculties may set up agreements for exchange directly with specific institutions,” Cassidy said. “Sometimes […] the host university has only expressed interest in the one faculty (or vice versa) or the exchange only works for the one faculty. For instance, some universities only have technology [or] engineering programs or only have management programs.”
When planning an exchange, Hnatchuk recommended that students take their own needs and interests into consideration to decide where they would like to study abroad.
“If you know that for the type of work you’re going to be doing later on that it’s important to have a work experience abroad, maybe you can try and tag that onto your study abroad,” she said. “If you know that learning a third language is going to be extremely important because you want to be working elsewhere in the world and want to have that flexibility, then that’s what’s going to be important for you.”
If the institution you’re interested in doesn’t appear on the list of McGill’s partner universities, you can participate in an independent study away program. This means that you apply directly to the university where you want to study, and pay their tuition instead of McGill’s.
While studying and living abroad may seem like an additional strain on your wallet, financial aid is available. For example, the Mobility Award grants a base sum of $1,000 dollars per semester to students studying abroad.
No matter what kind of exchange you’re interested in, it’s important to start thinking about the process well in advance of the first deadlines in January.
“I think it’s important that students choose an opportunity or find an opportunity that’s going to allow them to succeed,” Hnatchuk said. “Plan early, think about it early, talk to other students who have gone abroad, and explore all the different resources that are available at McGill.”
– Erica Friesen
How to apply for a bilateral exchange:
1) Request approval through the Minerva Exchange Request Form, by mid-January (exact due dates differ by faculty).
2) After your faculty has approved the request, the Student Exchanges and Study Abroad office (SESA) will nominate you to a partner institution.
3) Apply to your host university. Once you’ve been accepted, you’re ready to start preparing for your exchange!
To be eligible for an exchange, you must:
1) Have a minimum 3.0 Cumulative GPA.
2) Be registered as a full-time McGill student.
3) Have completed at least one full-time year of study at McGill by the time that your exchange program begins.
4) Meet any other faculty-specific criteria.
5) Possess a passport valid for a minimum of six months after the end of your exchange program.
See http://www.mcgill.ca/students/international/goabroad for more details
Oh, the places you will go!
Five students share their experiences abroad
(U3 Finance and Accounting)
Tsinghua University, Beijing
Why: “I wanted to break the bubble and experience something new.”
The experience: “Beijing was a hard place to live in; the pollution was really bad, the people were pushy, and no one spoke English. But I felt like I learned what it’s like to feel truly foreign, which is something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Highlights: “The group of friends that I met [was] awesome. I had 30 friends that I could always go out with, who were from all over [….] I was also able to take weekend trips to surrounding countries like Cambodia, Thailand, and South Korea.”
Advice: “It will be an experience going there, and it will be hard […], but I gained a lot [….] You have to be prepared for [the culture shock], and just be positive and outgoing no matter what comes along.”
National University of Singapore
Why: “I always wanted to travel to Southeast Asia and test my boundaries, but because Singapore is an English speaking country and is pretty developed, I could still feel comfortable and at home.”
The experience: “Singapore was nothing like I’d seen before. It was interesting and dynamic, with a government still evolving [….] Even though [Singapore] is the most expensive place to live in Southeast Asia, it’s still way cheaper than a semester in Montreal.”
Highlights: “The food, the warm climate, and the diverse group of people that I met [… and professors who] understand that you’re on exchange and don’t just want to sit in class while you’re there.”
Advice: “Don’t think twice about it; just [go on exchange] and don’t worry.”
(U3 International Development Studies)
Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Why: “I already spoke Spanish so I wanted to go somewhere where I could use it and learn to speak it better.”
The experience: “Very few people spoke English, but people were still really friendly [….] Half my classes were in Spanish and half were in English, so I was able to become friends with the international students and the Argentinean students [….] Argentina is also insanely diverse, so I was able to see the Iguazu Falls and go skiing while I was there.”
Highlights: “I went to see the Superclásico, which is one of their famous soccer games; it was incredible, I’d recommend it to anyone staying in Argentina [….] I’d also recommend seeing La Bomba Di Tiempo which is kind of like a bigger version of Tam Tams.”
Advice: “You have to be smart because [Buenos Aires] is a dangerous city with plenty of petty theft. Just be careful of your belongings, don’t walk alone after dark, and always take cabs.”
(U3, History and Political Science) University of Western Australia, Perth
Why: “I wanted to escape the big city to somewhere relaxed.”
The experience: “Perth is pretty isolated, with huge parks and beaches [….] There’s a lot of surfing, gold, cricket, and lawn bowling [….] It was not a difficult place to get used to because the language, history, and social life were very similar to Canada.”
Highlights: “I met a lot of good people and it was cool to just live in another country.”
Advice: “Mention that you’re Canadian [….] They love Canadians. They’ll think you’re the most interesting person there.”
(U3, International Development) L’Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po), France
Why: “I’ve always dreamed of actually living in Paris and being able to fully immerse myself into the Parisian life.”
The experience: “Paris was absolutely amazing [….] France is like the extreme of Montreal—they’re against multiculturalism; there’s a lot of animosity to foreigners, and the people weren’t friendly. But that’s part of the experience of living there [….] When you finally get one to smile or can communicate with them, it’s the best feeling.”
Highlights: “I loved just walking around the city because there was always something new to see that I hadn’t noticed before [….] I always felt safe because the city never sleeps, people are out all night long, and there are always groups of people around.”
Advice: “Living was very expensive [….] You can live cheaply though—you just have to figure out how. I basically lived on cheap wine and baguettes.”
– Hailey MacKinnon