A lesson in long distance learning: the ins & outs of exchange

Looking to break out of the Queen’s bubble? The Journal takes a look at your options for experiencing

Leong goes skydiving while on exchange at the University of New South Wales.
Leong goes skydiving while on exchange at the University of New South Wales.
Credit: 
Supplied photo by Laura Leong
Laura Leong travelled to the University of New South Wales on a formal Queen’s exchange, one of 97 different institutions that participate in exchanges with Queen’s
Laura Leong travelled to the University of New South Wales on a formal Queen’s exchange, one of 97 different institutions that participate in exchanges with Queen’s
Credit: 
Supplied photo by Laura Leong

If someone asked you to go to Macker’s this arvo, would you have any idea what they were talking about?

Thanks to a year spent at the University of New South Wales in Australia, Laura Leong, ArtSci ’07, wouldn’t have to think twice about going out to eat that afternoon. Upon her arrival down under, Leong,
along with about 130 other exchange and international students at the University, attended an orientation.

In addition to plagiarism lectures, the session also came with a surfing lesson and tutorial in local slang.

Leong said the surfing was one of the best parts of her experience. “I’ve never lived near the ocean so I don’t think about it very much, but they gave us a whole big talk.” Leong, who went on what is called a “formal exchange,” is one of hundreds of Queen’s students who have broken out of the Queen’s bubble to study or work abroad. In 2006, the University had exchange agreements with 97 different institutions worldwide.

The agreements mean that Queen’s students studying abroad will receive full credit for courses completed and pay all of their fees to Queen’s. It also means that a roughly equal number of students will travel between Queen’s and the other institution. Leong said being able to go away without paying international fees was one of the biggest factors in choosing her destination. She said she also looked for an English-speaking school that would still offer an experience different from life in Canada.
Though it took a lot of research, Leong said she found what she was hoping for.

“There were a lot of differences, but it was very subtle,” she said. “You wouldn’t notice if you just went on vacation.” For students who want to go on academic exchange, the application process begins in
the fall of second year. Students pick up a faculty specific application package at the Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC), housed in the JDUC.

In addition to filling out an application form, students submit a one-page essay—the statement of interest—detailing why they want to go on exchange and why they think it would benefit them.
They also need two letters of reference from Queen’s professors and must submit an academic transcript. This is where Education Abroad Advisor Rowena Selby steps in. Selby works in the QUIC office and meets with students one-on-one, helping them put together applications. She said most students find the reference letters the most difficult part of the process.

“Talking to profs can be intimidating,” she said, adding that having completed only one year of schooling by the time the application process starts means that many students have never been in a small class and may not have met any professors.

She said to be considered for an exchange, students need an average of 70 per cent in all of their courses to date. But statements of interest and personal background carry just as much weight as the marks.

“We don’t find the student gets into a situation where it’s their first time traveling … We want students to be strong academically and socially.”

Selby said students who are involved in a variety of activities at their home school are the most likely to integrate quickly and easily into a new environment. Tracey Borland, PhysEd ’07, didn’t have much trouble adjusting to her exchange in Edinburgh, Scotland. She said Scottish culture has always been close to her heart.

“I’ve been a highland dancer since I was four, and I’ve always been surrounded by Scottish culture, but I’d never actually been there.”

Borland said the only real hitch in her plans came when she first arrived. Students need to decide on the courses they will take at their host university and arrange to be enrolled in them.

Borland arrived on campus at the University of Edinburgh and was told the courses she had signed up for didn’t exist. She said the experience was stressful, but was quickly resolved with a trip to the PhysEd department.

Borland added that the experience epitomized the attitude of the people there. “Things are a lot more laid back [than at Queen’s]. It’s not always go, go, go.” It was because of this difference in attitude,
she said, that readjusting to life in Canada was harder than getting settled in Europe. Borland spent a year in Edinburgh. The exchange agreement between the two schools meant she was allowed to work up to 20 hours per week during the school year and work full-time during the summer break.

She said the only negative part of her experience was having to leave. “My flat mate and I are still really close,” she said. “We talk on the Internet and we’re talking about having a reunion.”

Selby said the application process can be overwhelming and even discouraging, but Borland’s reaction is a common one. “What every student says when they come back is ‘Thank God I went through all that because that was the most amazing experience of my life.’ ”

Students wanting to share their experiences upon returning to Queen’s can become country representatives and speak to outgoing students and students interested in applying, Selby said.
Anyone who has been on exchange for at least three months can participate. Selby added that the program is an excellent way to build a database for students to connect with other students who have
been where they want to go. In countries that don’t have exchange agreements with Queen’s, students have the option of direct enrollment.

In this case, students apply directly to the school they want to attend and, if accepted, pay fees to that school. Selby said that, in countries like Britain and the U.S., direct enrollment is much more expensive because students are obliged to pay full international fees to the host school.

However, in places like Latin America, international fees are often lower than Queen’s domestic fees.
“There are increasing amounts of students interested in direct enrollment because the schools that Queen’s [has] agreements with don’t satisfy their needs,” Selby said. Once the student has been accepted to the school of their choice, they need to get a letter of permission from their faculty allowing them to leave Queen’s and ensuring that credits earned at the host school will count toward a Queen’s degree. Students away on direct enrollment are still required to sign up for the Emergency Support Program, where each student is required to sign up for the program online before being considered for exchange.

The program was implemented in 1998 in response to a growing number of incidents of students being robbed or sexually harassed. Selby said several students from different institutions, including Queen’s, have died while on exchange. Selby said she could not provide any information regarding Queen’s students who have used the Emergency Support Program. After signing up, each student receives a contact number for Queen’s Campus Security that they can call if they run into trouble. Campus Security then acts as the top of a phone tree to contact the student’s family and anyone in the host country who can help the student. Selby said they have had to arrange for things like emergency flights home and the transfer of health insurance so students aren’t charged for hospital stays. Before leaving, students must also create a risk management plan specific to their destination.

“For example, if they’re going to a big city they may run the risk of having their bags taken,” Selby said. “That could be considered a risk, and they would create a plan on how to deal with that.”

During the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, there were more than 50 Queen’s students on exchange in the area. The university was able to contact the students to find out where they were. No one was hurt. The program also runs mandatory pre-departure orientation sessions for all students.

Selby said QUIC keeps a close watch on the world news and works with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to help students avoid the most dangerous areas of the world. After the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade issued a travel warning for Thailand, the Centre for International Management at Queen’s advised students not to travel there on exchange this semester.

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Every Wednesday in the Lower Ceilidh, representatives and students on exchange at Queen’s speak to
students about their countries and their experiences. Schedules are available online and at the Queen’s
University International Centre office in the JDUC.

LINKS TO LEARNING

For students looking to study or work abroad, research is the first place
to start. Here are some links to get you on the road towards making your
international dreams a reality.

Australearn—australearn.org
A non-profit organization offering study and work opportunities at 26 universities for students who want a down under adventure.

The Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada—aucc.ca
An index of scholarships and exchange programs on our home turf.

Campus Access—campusaccess.com
A guide designed for graduate and professional students seeking international exchange opportunities or internships.

Education USA—educationusa.state.gov
Anyone looking to spend a semester studying with our neighbours to the south can visit this comprehensive guide to the American post-secondary system.

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