Spotlight: On Student Exchange

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your exchange.

Hi, I’m Steph! I went to Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium on exchange in the winter of 2014. I was doing my undergraduate at Wilfrid Laurier University in International Development.

I visited Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Germany, UK, Ireland, Portugal and Spain when I was on exchange. It was my first time in Europe. Before, I had travelled around Canada and the US, and to India.

2. What are you up to these days? 

I’m grad student (again in International Development) and working in Ottawa, Ontario. I went back to Belgium for a year after the exchange because I loved living in Europe and wanted to work on my French and keep travelling.

That year I went to Sweden and back to Spain and Ireland, followed by Hungary, Czech Republic and Austria.

I made amazing friends on my exchange and that year abroad, and I still talk and plan visits to see them now. In fact, I’m visiting friends right now in Sweden and doing two weeks around Croatia and the Balkans… I really caught the travel bug while on exchange and fell in love with Europe.

3. How did you find your exchange opportunity and how was it to making all the arrangements?

It was easy with Laurier International – they help you set everything up with the host institution. The visa seemed a bit challenging at the time but you just have to be organized and give yourself enough time to collect all the documents. You had to find accommodations on your own which was easier to do once I was in Belgium, but I was nervous to show up without somewhere to live. The first apartment I was in was outside of the university town and it really wasn’t nice… But, I made friends and moved to the town where the university was and had a much easier and better experience because of it. I’m so glad I had the sense to move right away!

4. What is something you wish you had known before going on your exchange? 

I wish I had known that it’s okay to arrive and situate yourself a bit once you’re in the country. I also wish I knew that everyone was equally as unsure and as nervous as I was, but that we would support each other through it.

I’m also really glad I was ahead on credits because it meant I had a flexible school schedule. Also, I failed my first class while on exchange (oops) so I was happy I didn’t need that credit. Myself and many other international students did not exactly have our head in the books. While school is still important – there are many distractions (travelling!).

5. What were some differences in your educational experience in Belgium versus Canada?

I found the system really different than in Canada. The semester was more heavily weighted towards the end and some of the exams were worth over 50% of the final mark. There weren’t many group projects or essays as I was used to, but lots of exams. It was a lot of independent study, and a lot of being tested on your knowledge. There were also more classic programs like business, law, etc., so there weren’t many subjects that were directly related to my degree… But, I still learned a lot on exchange, although more so from the actual experience of living abroad and travelling.

6. Would you recommend students take advantage if an exchange is an option? 

I would absolutely recommend it. It’s a great way to expand your horizons and experience a new country, sometimes language, and educational experience. I’ve met such amazing people and it made me a more confident and adaptable person.

I did, however, turn down an exchange during my graduate studies. It gets harder to pick up and move when career prospects come into the picture, or with family commitments. But if the possibility is there and it’s the right time for you, than 100% go for it!!!!

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