What we learned on exchange: practical lessons for day-to-day life

Students share stories of getting bitten by bats, navigating a flooded city, and more

Studying abroad can help you fulfil lifelong dreams, but it can also leave you susceptible to unfortunately mishaps.

When you first sign up to go on university exchange, it’s natural to fantasize about far-flung travel, mouth-watering food, and life-long friendships. For the most part, these fantasies come true, but going on exchange also comes with some unexpected road bumps.

Flights get cancelled, wallets get stolen, and luggage gets lost, but these incidents can sometimes teach a person more than any university class. These Queen’s students got a little more than they bargained for on university exchange, but learned a lot from their experiences.


“When I was on exchange in Australia, I went to Thailand for my semester break. That’s where I got bitten on the head by a bat during a hike when it smacked into me on the trail and panicked.

What followed was multiple trips to hospitals to get post-exposure rabies vaccines, which resulted in antibody vaccines in my head, arms, and thighs, and a series of other rabies vaccines over the next two weeks.

I learned not to hike at dusk, that occasionally checking WebMD is helpful, and that bats are no joke. Thankfully, the rest of my exchange was amazing: I survived apart from my now-serious fear of bats.”

Annie Brennand, ConEd ’20

“During my exchange in Europe, I spent 24 hours in Venice, and it turns out that those 24 hours were part of ‘the worst flood in 10 years.’

My hostel was a 40-minute walk from the friend I was visiting and the city centre, and I had no cell service because the floods had caused a power outage. Imagine walking through the streets of Venice in the pitch-black dark with no working map or city streets (because it’s mostly just bridges).

To add insult to injury, strangers ignored me when I asked for help, and the fact that I was a girl alone in the streets of Italy didn’t help my panic. I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared in my life, praying I’d find my way to the city centre and make my train on time.

At one point, a man walked up to me and told me my bag was open. Thankfully, he spoke English and was heading in the same direction as me. He kindly brought me to my destination, but I realized that one of my shoes had fallen out of my bag on the way there—it’s likely somewhere in the ocean by now.

I learned to use the downloadable city maps Google offers before any trip so I wouldn’t have to worry about using up all my data. Also, this may not be for everyone, but I learned some faith, because I swear that man was a godsend.”

Adiel Grechanick, Commerce ’20

“On exchange, I took a trip that involved flying from Georgia to Scotland with a layover in Istanbul. As usual, I triple-checked the flight times to ensure there was plenty of time to make my connection flight. However, something you’re bound to learn (often more than once) when traveling is that things sometimes happen beyond your control.

My first flight’s 90-minute delay turned my layover in Istanbul into a 2 km race to get to the opposite end of the airport to make my flight to Scotland. Luckily, I arrived at the gate just before the crew shut the doors. Taking my seat, I wiped the sweat from my brow, feeling relieved that the drama was over.

But even though I made the flight, my luggage didn’t. I arrived in a cold Scotland wearing nothing but shorts and a tank top. Not ideal when all my warm clothes were in Georgia. Luckily I realized my credit card offered delayed baggage insurance for such a scenario. I ended up going on a shopping spree to buy clothes to wear until my luggage arrived.

I now advise all my friends who travel frequently to look into credit cards with good coverage, pack a change of clothes and essentials in your carryon bag, and—most importantly—to review their insurance policies so they don’t wind up feeling completely helpless.”

Sam Misner, Comm ’20

“Once, on a plane returning to Barcelona from Seville, I ended up squished next to a very fussy old woman who was very uncomfortable flying. After watching her struggle for about 10 minutes, I helped her attach her seatbelt. From takeoff to touchdown, she proceeded to tell me her entire life story.

Turns out two hours of smiling and nodding can work wonders because we were best friends by the end of the flight, and I still can’t speak a word of Spanish.”

Pamoda Wijekoon ArtSci ’20

“During the summer of 2018, I went abroad to Italy for just over a month to study architecture. I flew across the ocean having completed a mere eight levels of Italian on Duolingo, the language-learning app.

Through my internship, interns like me were stationed at the Canada Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. We were told to greet visitors and answer questions about the exhibit.

The pavilion I worked in featured a small rock garden framed by a glass wall, with one panel of glass that everyone thought was a door. I couldn’t tell you why, but it took watching two visitors walk face-first into the glass for me to realize I had to protect these people from themselves.

I began to stand in front of this window, guiding the visitors to the actual door. Offering instructions in both English and French wasn’t enough, because once, an Italian visitor tried to push me away so that he could leave through what he thought was the exit.

It was then when I learned how to say, “L'uscita è a sinistra.” The exit is to the left. Please don’t try to walk through the window.

Maybe I should have learned a little more Italian before going on exchange to Italy. My bad.”

Amelia Rankine, ArtSci’ 20

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