Sophia Chea (right), a Ryerson International (RI) intern and future exchange student interviews Saura Haggart-Smith (left), another RI intern and former exchange participant.
THE APPLICATION PROCESS:
Sophia: Before I applied to go on an exchange, I attended an information session hosted by my faculty specific exchange coordinator. Attending the session made my application process so much easier. As the deadline for the application is near the end of January, I was able to take some time after my exams to complete it.
- Go on www.ryerson.ca/ri to see which universities are applicable to your faculty and program. Make sure you do research on your top 3 universities and countries!
- Complete the outbound student applicable form
- Complete your letter of interest – why do you want to study abroad?
- Complete your detailed resume
- Create your application package – printed version of application form, detailed resume, letter of interest.
- Bring your package to your faculty exchange coordinator
- Interview with the exchange coordinator
- Wait for acceptance!
AFTER BEING ACCEPTED
INTO THE EXCHANGE PROGRAM:
- Accept offer from Ryerson
- Wait for offer from host institution and accept
- Work with your program coordinator to select your courses
- Visa application (if applicable)
- Housing application (if living in residence)
- Book flights
- Ensure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after the end of your planned travel
- Figure out wire transfers, bank accounts, credit card fees (Tip: Look into Scotiabank Global ATM Alliance – Scotiabank has partner ATMs around the world)
ADVICE FROM SAURA:
Sophia: How did you budget for your trip?
Saura: I knew from the very beginning of undergrad that I wanted to go on exchange, so it was always something in the back of my mind while I was budgeting for the school year. The cost of living in New Zealand wasn’t so much my main concern — not working for a semester was. My costs while I was away were actually very similar to my costs in Toronto, the added cost of the flight was really the biggest change. I also made sure that I had a contingency fund and took out a line of credit so if any issues arose I had easily accessible money. Having that extra cushion definitely helped reduce my stress, and I know that the money I spent was a great investment in my future.
Sophia: What are some things to keep in mind while you’re abroad?
Saura: Try not to focus too much on what you’re missing back home. In the beginning it was hard looking at all the photos and videos of my friends in Canada, I felt like I was missing out on experiences there. But the thing to keep in mind is that they will be there when you get back. It has been amazing seeing my friends after 9 months away. It’s like no time has passed, and the relationships have actually been strengthened by the time apart. The distance forced me to put more effort into the relationships that matter most to me and really take the time to stay connected. People I was worried I would lose touch with actually became the people I became closest to during the time I was away, and other friendships that were built on convenience played out their course or have picked right back up where we left off.
Sopha: What was a tip someone gave to you that was useful while overseas?
Saura: Keep focused on your goal. The period between receiving the offer to go on exchange and when you actually go can feel like forever, and can drag on with all the small, but necessary details. The best thing to do is keep that initial excitement going. Start planning out the trips you want to take and the places you want to see. The time will fly by faster than you expect and before you know it you’re touching down in your exchange country.
Sophia: What is a myth commonly believed about student exchanges?
Saura: The biggest, and most damaging myth I have heard is that your exchange experience will change your life. I feel like this adds so much unnecessary pressure to an already nerve-wracking experience and makes people feel like they’re failing at the experience. You will change and grow during your time abroad. You will gain a whole new perspective on the world, on different cultures, and on your own culture. That alone will create a shift in you and will change your perspective on life. But by forcing the notion that this must be a hugely life changing experience it detracts from the actual experience of living abroad and can cause you to focus on making sure it appears to be this epic, life altering trip, instead of focusing on the experiences and being present in the moment. Allow yourself to experience the exchange your way, not how you think you’re supposed to experience it.
Sophia: What is one important advice you would give to a student going on an exchange?
Saura: Stay on top of your needs, but don’t stress yourself out about every small detail. Make a list, create a spreadsheet, do whatever you need to do to keep yourself organized and stay on top of all the little things you need to do before you leave. I was super stressed about getting my visa in time, I dreamt about it and constantly worried that it wouldn’t go through. But worrying didn’t help it process any faster. So I did productive things that I had control over, like following up with my exchange coordinators, both at Ryerson and my host university, to ensure all my paperwork could be processed as quickly as possible so I could submit my visa application. The onus is on you to ensure you have everything you need to be successful. Ryerson has an amazing support system, with the faculty coordinators and the staff at Ryerson International, but you need to be the one to take charge and ask for the support you need. This is your exchange experience and it will be what you make of it. The first step in an amazing experience is planning, and it can be a fun and exciting process if you look at it as such.
Sophia: How did you deal with the shock of being in a new country?
Saura: It was weird at first. New Zealand is so similar to Canada, yet so different – it was like a surreal version of home. I didn’t realize at first that I was dealing with culture shock, but looking back on it, I definitely was. The hardest part for me was missing my friends and family, but dealing with that was a surprisingly easy fix. I made sure to skype with them regularly – I actually called my mom as I was unpacking in my new room. Being able to see them and share my journey with them helped me feel more at home and allowed to me explore with ease. I also slept for a solid 12 hours when I first arrived. Between the dramatic time change and the nearly 30 hours of travel, from Vancouver to New Zealand, I was absolutely exhausted. The much needed rest meant that next day I was up early and ready to explore my new home.
Sophia: How were your classes?
Saura: I really enjoyed my classes. They were much smaller than I am used to, with the largest class having 20 people. I got to know all of my professors well and they got to know me. My professors helped make sure I was comfortable with their systems and were extremely cognisant that I was used to a very different education system.
Sophia: How do you recommend I manage my schoolwork while still travelling as much as possible?
Saura: I had a very different class setup than most of my friends. I had small assignments due almost every week, while they had two to three larger assignments in each course, so they had much larger gaps in between due dates. I based my school work schedule around activities I wanted to do. Not having a job while away definitely freed up a lot of time that I’m used to dedicating to work, so I definitely felt like I had a lot of time to explore.
Sophia: How do I go about making friends/finding people to travel and explore with?
Saura: Making friends was harder and easier than I was expecting it to be. I was the first of my flatmates to arrive, so I spent the first few days alone, going on mini adventures by myself. Two days after I arrived the student residence had an orientation and I met a lot of other exchange students there. Everyone is just so excited to be on this adventure that once you start meeting people you just jump right into hanging out. All the other exchange students are going through the same things you are, so even simple tasks, like finding a good grocery store, become bonding trips.
Sophia: Should I live in student residence or find my own place off campus?
Saura: I lived in residence and I highly recommend it. Almost all of the exchange students I met lived in residence, which made making new friends much easier. It also means that your housing is fully sorted out before you land, which can be a big stress reliever. Residence can seem more expensive initially, but it usually includes more things. In my residence everything but the bed sheets were included in the rent cost, which helped me save money in the long run.
Sophia: How did your exchange experience impact your life upon returning to Toronto? Did you have reverse culture shock?
Saura: Reverse culture shock is definitely a thing. I went from my exchange in New Zealand straight to an internship in New York, so I didn’t have any time to process my experience as I was thrust into a whole new adventure. But coming back to Toronto in September, it definitely felt surreal. It was as if nothing had changed, and yet it had. It was also a bit of an odd feeling not having big adventures to plan for. That was a big adjustment for me. But being in my own home, back at Ryerson and with my friends again definitely helped me feel more excited to be back.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER:
- Cost of beauty products/necessities (like sunscreen) where you are
- Research the cost of food and what options are available for your dietary concerns
- Research cell phone plans/decide if you want to set up a phone while away (Tip: the CRTC must now unlock your phone for free)
- Purchase plug converters and check if your electronics will work on different frequencies