As the end of the semester swiftly approaches, many students on campus have the added stress of preparing for an upcoming exchange in the winter semester. The preparation process practically amounts to the workload of a sixth course; however, it can make for a fun study break. Here are some things to keep in mind as you get ready to kiss Montreal winter goodbye.
Read ALL those annoying documents
Chances are you have received a vast number of lengthy documents from McGill and from your host institution. Reading them may seem like a drag (it is), and the formal jargon may remind you of your awful political science class in first year. Nonetheless, they are all VERY important and contain a lot of details about key dates and deadlines. Ignoring, or even skimming, these documents could seriously jeopardize your exchange. Buckle down and treat those documents as if they are all going to be on your final exam.
Book your flights
Given that McGill waits until the last possible second to issue your acceptance, flight prices are going to be astronomical, so don’t wait any longer to book your ticket. Prices are not going to magically drop. Consider booking through a travel agent, as there is no charge to get a quote and no obligation to book to flight if you find something cheaper online, but it can relieve you of the hassles of booking by yourself. If you don’t want to seek out a travel agent, some helpful websites for looking up flight plans or snagging a deal on plane tickets are Google Flight, Expedia, and Kayak.
Apply for your Visa
Visa applications can be a royal pain, but it is best to get it over with sooner rather than later. It is not uncommon to be asked to provide evidence of literally every facet of your life when applying for your visa, and gathering these documents can take time. Let’s face it, getting “deported” may sound like a funny story to tell your friends, but it won’t be cool when you arrive back in Montreal for -30 degree weather and miss out on your exchange experience.
This one varies from place to place and depends mostly on where you are interested in living. If you want to live on-campus, or in a large complex specifically designed for students, you should book ASAP—spaces are limited. This is almost always the more expensive option, but can be recommended, depending on the dynamic of the international student community. However, if you are looking to live off-campus, it is highly recommended not to book anything before you go. Get to your destination and stay in a low-cost hostel for a few days, while you apartment-hunt. You can never be sure what you see online is what you are going to get, not too mention the possibility of fraudulent posts.
Pay Your Doctor a Visit
Depending on where you are going, you must look into whether or not there are any mandatory or recommended vaccinations in place. A comprehensive list of these vaccinations by country can be found at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/tmp-pmv/countries-pays/index-eng.php. Don’t forget to check countries you are considering doing side excursions to, as well. While you are at the Doctor’s office, renew your prescriptions and stock up on any medication you may need while you are away.
Set Up a Travel Blog
This is a great way for your friends and family to follow you on your travels, and in the end, it will be the greatest souvenir of your trip. Use WordPress and you can even add it as a line on your resume— nearly 20% of all websites are powered by the platform! 3 birds with one stone? Yes, please.
Sending postcards is becoming a lost art, so don’t let it die. “I hate getting postcards,” said no one ever! Your friends and family will be elated when they actually receive a physical piece of mail other than a bill. But gone are the days when we know the addresses of just about anyone, so start a running list of your close family and friends’ addresses.
Unfortunately, you will not be able to bring the entire contents of your walk-in closet. Do your research with regards to weather, and plan which belongings you will bring, more than one day in advance, to avoid packers remorse. Packing lightly is a blessing and a curse, but remember, coming home to “OMG where did you get that shirt?” will make it all worth it.
Lastly, keeping an open mind and a curiosity to learn is always important when going on exchange. Sure, an exchange seems like a great way to slack off for a semester, but you can also immerse yourself in a new culture, change your outlook on life, and meet new friends if you take the opportunity. Your exchange experience is what YOU make of it. Good luck and safe travels!