As any who have done one will tell you, an exchange abroad is a formative and unforgettable experience not to be missed. Taking you out of your comfort zone, expanding your world-view, and transforming you into a global citizen; the lessons and skills you learn studying abroad will help you both in life and throughout your career.
While there are a lot of myths circulating about how exchange is unaffordable and will delay graduation, allow us to dispel these arguments. If you want to go on exchange, you can do it! In our guide for going on exchange, we’ll walk you through the how!
Where to Go
So you’ve decided you might like to go on exchange. That’s awesome! The first step you’ll need to take is to check out which schools and countries your university has agreements with. Once you’ve got an idea of your options, you can start to narrow down where you’d be interested in going. The Continental’s Countries Collection is a great resource for getting a brief history and overview for any of the countries you’re interested in – as well as a rundown of what to see and do while you’re there!
But while you should definitely narrow down your options based on the places that appeal to you most or that you find the most interesting, there are some other considerations to take into account as well.
1. Transfer Credits:
This is one of the biggest points to consider when deciding where to go on exchange. Failing to research the courses on offer at potential host universities could quite easily end up delaying your graduation, so do your research! Some good questions to keep in mind are:
- What courses does the host school offer and when are they available?
- What language are the courses taught in?
- What is considered a full-time course load at the host school?
- What are the credit weights?
This may already seem like a lot, but it really all boils down to whether you will get the credits you need. Even in this early stage, it’s well worth going in to speak with your academic advisor and international coordinator to see where you stand and which credits you still need to graduate. Your international coordinator can then help you to narrow down the schools that will work best for you!
It might seem early to worry about, but if your budget is something holding you back from the idea of going on exchange, it shouldn’t be. However, it is something to factor in when deciding where to go. If you already receive OSAP funding, going on exchange will not change this status. In the majority of cases with Canadian universities, you will still pay tuition to your home university, even though you’ll be studying elsewhere.
On top of OSAP, there are plenty of scholarships on offer for students studying on exchange, both generally and from specific institutions. Check out the website of your school’s international office to get an idea of what’s available! If there are any you feel you’d have a good chance of getting, it might be worth putting that university on your list.
Finally, if you’re worried about how expensive an exchange might be, take a look at those options where the cost of living is lower. The potential cost of flights is also something to bear in mind. Going on exchange in a country where you can get by on less can be a great way to save money. Who knows, you might even spend less than you would studying back in Canada!
3. Host School Requirements
When considering host schools, one thing to keep in mind before finalizing your nominations are the requirements of the host schools you’re thinking of applying to. Ensuring your grades meet the demands before you apply can save you a lot of time and worry, and spare you the possibility that you aren’t accepted to any of your exchange nominations. Grades aren’t good enough for the school you want? Find another school where they are, and that you can get equally excited about!
Before you apply to go on exchange, it’s important to stay informed about the application process. Your school’s website should have a good amount of information about this. Many schools also hold mandatory information sessions you’ll need to attend in order to be eligible for exchange. Besides the mandatory aspect, these sessions are often quite informative and can answer specific questions you might have that you couldn’t find information for online.
Lastly, you’ll need to apply! Usually you are allowed up to 6 choices on your exchange application. Keeping everything we’ve discussed thus far in mind, be sure to rank these in order of your top preference! After you’ve completed your application and sent it in, all you can do is sit back and wait.
Heard back about your exchange? Now comes the fun part! First you’ll have to accept your nomination and apply to your host university, but we’ll leave that to you to sort out with your international office. Once everything is confirmed for certain, and you’ve registered for your classes, it’s time to start figuring out all of the practical logistics!
This is a big one! Where are you going to live? Most schools guarantee housing to international students, and you’ll generally receive information about this once you get your acceptance package. It’s never a bad idea to opt for one of the residence options offered by your host school. The school typically offers housing options covering a range of different budgets, and while there is certainly some romance to finding housing on your own off-campus, don’t take this decision too lightly.
Whether your exchange is for one semester or a whole year, it’s not a long time. A big part of exchange is the people you meet and the connections you make, and it’s a whole lot easier to meet people and make lifelong friends if you’re living together in res!
Planning Your Budget
We brought it up earlier, but now is the time to really figure out your finances! Once you’ve found a place to live, you’ll have an idea of how much rent will cost you each month. With a budget calculator, you can get a rough idea of how much food and drink will cost you per day.
Nothing needs to be set in stone, but it’s always good to have a rough idea of how much you’re likely to spend on a weekly basis. Even if you end up spending over this, it will help you decide on whether you’ll need to get a job or not while you’re abroad. As well, you’ll know better how much money you’ll have leftover for any trips and experiences you’d like to have; and let’s face it, this is a big part of going on exchange!
Furthermore, if you had your sights set on any scholarships, make sure to apply before the deadline! The sooner you know how much money you’ll have at your disposal, the better you can plan!
The sooner you can book your flights, the better! After all, the sooner you book, the cheaper they generally are. Be sure to take a look at discount airlines, but be wary. Lower ticket prices often come with strings attached. Check out our guide to budget airlines for all the tips you’ll need when booking your flight!
Different countries, and different embassies, have different policies and processing times for visas – but three months is the typical rule. You generally won’t be able to apply for your student visa until you receive an acceptance letter from your host university. Sometimes these can arrive last minute, so be sure to figure out everything else you’ll need to apply for your visa, and where you’ll need to go to do it, well in advance!
You’ve got your acceptance letter, you’ve got your visa, you’ve booked your flight. It’s almost time to go! However, there’s still a few last minute things you’ll need before you fly out! We can’t tell you everything you’ll need to pack, because we don’t know where you’re going! But here’s a few things to keep in mind when in your last weeks of preparations:
1. Pack for the Climate
You know where you’re going and when, so make sure to pack accordingly! If you’re headed to Scandinavia for the winter semester, pack winter clothing and make sure you have a coat accessible. Not so difficult seeing as Canada has the same winter. If you’re headed to the southern hemisphere, however, remember to plan for the opposite! Do your research and try to only pack what you know you’re going to need. You can always pick up some stuff when you get there!
It’s always good to have a toothbrush and some toothpaste stored away, but depending on your destination, you may want to pack more or less! If you’re travelling to a western country, chances are you’ll be able to find whatever you’ll need, but keep in mind the cost of living of your soon-to-be host country. If you are pretty sure you can get the stuff considerably cheaper in Canada, it might be good to load up before you travel (just be sure to put it in your checked baggage). This will likewise be the case if you’re not sure about the availability of certain products in the country you’re headed to.
It’s always a good idea to have some local cash on hand when arriving in a new country, so be sure to pick some up before you get to the airport. Not sure where to get it? Continental offers students discounts!
4. Health Insurance
You should still be covered under your university’s student health plan while on exchange; but, depending on how long you’ll be away for, you may need to notify your provincial service office to temporarily suspend your provincial health insurance. Typically you only have to worry about this if you’ll be away for a year or more.
5. Make Copies of Passports and Visas
Be sure to photocopy your passport, visa, acceptance letter, and any other important documents. Send yourself digital copies by email, and keep a printed version (or two) on hand, separate from your actual documents. Just in case!
6. Plan your Arrival
One of the last things you should do, but definitely something you should do, is to figure out how to get to where you need to get to once you land in your destination country. Plot it all out ahead of time so that, in the event you don’t have wifi or data, you’ll know where to go and won’t get lost. Whether you download the area on Google Maps so you can view without data, write down the directions yourself or print them out, make sure you have them on you. It could well prove the difference between peace of mind and a panic attack in a strange new place.
Off You Go!
That’s it! You’ve packed your bags, collected your documents, and you’re headed off. You might be feeling nervous, and you’re allowed that! Moving somewhere new, with a different culture and, perhaps, a different language, can be scary! But it’s also one of the best things you can ever do. Just one thing, don’t forget your passport!
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