As young adults, many of us have the desire to travel and see the world, stemming from an inclination to expand our horizons and worldviews, especially in university. The exchange program at McGill is one way students can indulge their travel bug while simultaneously pursuing their degree. Some students are inherently predisposed to this opportunity, while others feel external pressures to apply because their friends are doing so. The urge to apply for exchange — and consequently waving goodbye to your friends for a semester — is real for many students and can be the cause of stress and uneasiness. Exchange is simply not for everyone.
There are many reasons to apply for exchange. For some, the motivation to go abroad is embedded within their desire to travel; others may have a connection to the place of their choice and want to experience living there. Some might feel the need to free themselves of the McGill bubble. Whatever one’s drive may be to apply and go on exchange, it is a big decision, with the possibility of anxieties and doubts being brushed under the rug until the day comes to present their boarding pass.
Not everyone is applying for exchange out of a pure desire to travel. Some students feel the need to apply because all their friends are participating in the program. It is important to recognize that most students pursuing exchange have doubts, but if you are solely choosing to go on exchange because of your friends, perhaps this is not the program for you — and that is okay.
If one ventures outside of the McGill community, one might be surprised to learn that there is a diverse Montreal populace that students tend to neglect.
Any reason one may have to apply for exchange is valid. I do, however, think it is important for people to remember and recognize that if exchange is not for them, they should not feel pressured to participate in the program. If one ventures outside of the McGill community, one might be surprised to learn that there is a diverse Montreal populace that students tend to neglect. There are many local opportunities waiting — in a community that is bigger and different than our own. Not going on exchange can also give one the chance to become more involved in McGill’s student politics, clubs of interest, or sports teams. It is easy to remain comfortable in one’s social circle (and that is fair), but if you feel the need to branch out into the larger McGill community, there are surely opportunities awaiting. The stress of possibly not having your close friends around for a semester is understandable, but keep in mind the multitude of exciting opportunities McGill has to offer.
I applied for exchange because I have a connection to the country I intend to travel to and want to experience living in a place that I have learned about all my life. For me, applying to the program was an obvious choice. But for others, this option may not be as apparent. An anonymous student in his third year once told me, “I’m American, so university feels like exchange.”
Exchange is obviously a great idea for some, and not so clear for others. Do whatever you are comfortable with! This may require intense soul searching and/or a visit to a psychic as the other pressures that come from university life are paramount. Nonetheless, exchange is not mandatory nor is it a prerequisite for a fulfilling semester.