Student Exchange Abroad: Well worth your time!

Edmund Lam

Edmund Lam

Why, you might ask yourself, should I join a student exchange program? Aren’t my courses in the Faculty of Science program at McGill enough of a challenge? Besides, which universities would allow me to complete courses required for my degree?

I founding myself asking these very questions last year when deciding whether or not to apply for an exchange at another university. Studying in a different country, immersing myself in a novel culture and meeting people from around the world are all good reasons to go abroad. As a Montreal local, I was also interested in studying away from home.

Seven months later, I find myself in the hustle and bustle of Asia at City University of Hong Kong.

If you are interested in exchanges programs, there are several ways that you can go on exchange through McGill. You should definitely look into McGill’s bilateral exchange program. McGill has bilateral agreements with many universities in Europe, Asia, and Oceania and the Middle East. These agreements dramatically simplify application and visa procedures, and will also save you money by allowing you to study abroad while paying tuition to McGill.

For science students, the academic requirements for applying for an exchange are not too demanding. Few science students choose to go on exchange each year, largely because the program is not widely publicized in the science community. At the moment most people who apply are offered a spot—so if you decide to apply, you will be likely to be accepted.

If you are considering going on exchange, here are some tips and comments that I have accumulated during my preparations to study abroad.

  1. Visit the study abroad websites [1][2] and the exchange office in the James Administration building. Unfortunately the information about exchange programs is spread across several departmental websites. I have included two as an example. At the exchange office, you can obtain information about all the university partners as well as testimonies from previous exchange students.
  2. Be prepared to know your faculty and departmental advisers. They will be the ones who can answer your questions. In particular, they will help you get your courses approved for transfer credits. On this note, try to get more courses approved than you need. This will allow you some leeway in terms of what courses you would want to take.
  3. Consider the courses that you could most likely find abroad. As a science student, you may be limited to more specific courses for your major and you may have a hard time finding them abroad. For example, as a Neuroscience student, there were no neuroscience courses at CityU. If you come across this problem, consider taking more common courses, such as in math and statistics, biology or chemistry. You could also consider taking courses that would complete your minor concentration.
  4. Consider the possibility that you might have to do an extra semester at home. It is possible that even if you get transfer credits, you will not be able to finish your undergrad by U3. Are you willing to extend your undergraduate degree by one semester? In my opinion, I thought that the opportunity to study abroad occurs only once and is well worth the potential risk. You can also consider taking summer courses to speed up the process.
  5. Buy your plane ticket as soon as possible. Once you get approved on the McGill side for the exchange, you are pretty much guaranteed a spot at the host university. Look into getting a ticket after that, as you may not get the host university’s acceptance letter until a few weeks before you leave.
  6. Look into what kind of financial support you can obtain. McGill offers  mobility awards which can usually pay for your plane ticket. The host universities may also offer exchange students scholarships or financial support.
  7. Courses taken abroad can count for your degree but will not be counted towards your GPA. This takes a little stress off of the whole exchange situation. Remember, however, that if you apply for graduate or professional schools, their admissions offices will typically ask for the exchange semester transcripts.

There are many reasons to go on exchange and I think that it is an opportunity that every undergrad  should take. I’ve spent less than a week in Hong Kong but I already know that I will have a great time this semester. I highly recommend that science students consider doing a semester of study abroad.

Edmund Lam, currently in his U2 year in the Faculty of Science, is pursuing a major in Neuroscience with a minor in Computer Science. Edmund is spending the 2010 winter semester on an exchange with City University of Hong Kong. He is a Richard and Mary Shaw Scholarship in Science winner.

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