After cancelling the Fall 2021 exchange program and nearly cancelling the Winter 2022 exchange program, McGill announced in November 2021 that this semester’s exchange program would proceed as planned. But with the ongoing pandemic causing travel disruptions worldwide, this year’s exchange program is not without its complications. Despite the rapid spread of the Omicron variant and Quebec’s latest lockdown, McGill students are still packing their bags for international destinations this winter.
The decision to reinstate the exchange program for Winter 2022 came after Global Affairs Canada lifted a travel advisory on all non-essential travel outside of Canada. However, as of Dec. 15, 2021, the COVID-19 Global travel advisory once again encouraged Canadians to avoid all non-essential international travel due to the Omicron variant. Nevertheless, McGill Abroad decided not to cancel this semester’s exchange, but is encouraging students to proceed with caution.
Students planning to go on exchange this semester have had to navigate the ongoing COVID-19 developments, as well as mixed messages from McGill Abroad.
Molly Westrup, U3 Arts, is planning to attend Trinity College Dublin this semester. Westrup expressed to the Tribune that she had doubts about the COVID-19 situation while planning her exchange.
“[O]f course I was nervous because everything’s so up in the air all the time,” Westrup said. “In early October it did get cancelled [because] of COVID.”
Westrup noted that while she had “made peace with it [being cancelled],” she “was happy when it got reinstated.”
Megan Waters, U3 Arts, explained that McGill’s lack of clarity on whether exchanges would happen this semester contributed to her anxiety.
“McGill added a lot to my anxiety during the whole process with the constant cancelling, reinstating, and properly cancelling,” Waters said. “So that made me nervous, not just because of COVID, but because of the lack of clarity of what I will be doing in two, three months time.”
Waters was far from the only student frustrated with McGill’s communication about exchanges. In an email to the Tribune, Henry Ceffalio, U2 Arts, highlighted how McGill’s decision to cancel and then reinstate the exchange made organizing his affairs abroad particularly challenging.
“McGill’s cancellation and later [reinstatement] of exchanges caused a lot of logistical challenges for me,” Ceffalio wrote. “McGill cancelled exchanges on October 5th and didn’t confirm that my exchange was fully reinstated until November 11th. I didn’t receive my visa until just days before travelling and nearly all of the housing options offered by my university in France were filled by the time I applied.”
Ceffalio further explained that he would have been unprepared to stay in Montreal had the exchange been cancelled.
“I was blind-sided when McGill initially cancelled exchanges,” Ceffalio wrote. “I had no backup plan for how I’d be able to live in Montreal and attend McGill in Winter 2022. I wasn’t signed up for Winter classes and didn’t have an apartment in Montreal. I had to scramble to figure those things out, only to be told that I could actually go abroad.”
Although students expressed frustration over the university’s poor communication with regards to the winter exchange program, many are excited to embark on their international adventure.
When asked whether she worried that COVID-19 regulations would taint her experience on exchange in Dublin, Westrup replied enthusiastically that she would make the best of the situation, while proceeding with caution.
“Technically I’m abroad right now [as an American],” Westrup said. “My second year was tainted by COVID regulations […] but now I’m much more accustomed to what I’m comfortable with and [determining] what seems safe to me. So I think I’ll be able to have a really good experience on my own terms without having COVID take hold of it.”
After nearly two full years of living through a global pandemic, McGill students feel both thrill and uncertainty in dusting off their suitcases for a long-awaited semester abroad.