Exchange should be an opportunity for everyone

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Queen’s has over 220 exchange partners in 55 countries with programs for students in every faculty. Some prospective students choose Queen’s for its breadth of opportunities to study abroad. For others, exchange isn’t a factor—but it should be.

For anyone looking to see the world and maximize their university experience, studying abroad is a golden opportunity.

There aren’t many times in life when we have a set period to devote to learning and personal growth. Most people agree that education is about much more than what happens in the classroom, but it’s easy to neglect that part of the university experience.

There’s so much to gain from studying abroad: friendships all over the world, learning to appreciate cultural differences, getting comfortable with discomfort, exploring all the sights in your host country, and more. It’s something from which almost every student can benefit.

However, as beneficial as exchange can be, there are no shortage of barriers for those looking to participate.

Financing a semester or full academic year abroad is challenging, even without paying tuition to your host university. Unfavourable exchange rates in many foreign countries, high travel costs, and inflation don’t help, either. For many students, going abroad is inaccessible.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also been a barrier to studying abroad over the past few years. Many Queen’s exchanges were cancelled, and those that proceeded often left students uncertain about whether exchange would go ahead until a few weeks or days before departure. 

Just as it is at home, finding housing is challenging for outgoing exchange students and is a tough barrier to overcome. Housing scams are more and more common and the stress of navigating a housing search can cause students to choose to abandon their study-abroad plans. 

Opportunities for exchange at Queen’s are incredible, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. For example, the International Programs Office (IPO) leaves something to be desired in terms of the pre-exchange support it offers. 

Once students are accepted by their host universities, they’re expected to refer to their university for support. However, when the host university can’t answer their questions and the IPO’s response to inquiries is to suggest contacting the host university abroad, students are left feeling abandoned.

There are gaps in support for many of the most important parts of exchange preparation. 

Things like organizing visas are stressful tasks for which students could benefit from guidance, even in the form of a simple checklist and regular communication throughout the visa application process. 

While each country’s issuing process is unique, it seems reasonable to expect support on one of the most challenging parts of exchange preparation. One possible solution is for the University to employ returning exchange students to walk outgoing students through the process. 

Students already rely on past exchange students for advice, so compensating them for that work would make them more available to assist on a regular basis.

It should be our goal as a community to ensure the opportunities available don’t present such a challenge that students hesitate to take them.

Despite the challenges preparing to go abroad presents, the experience is worth it ten times over. That’s why the university should work to better support students seeking to enrich their education through exchange.

Students return home more confident, independent, and better equipped to face life after graduation. If you’re interested in seeing the world, don’t miss out on what Queen’s has to offer.

Maia is a fourth-year French student and The Journal's Editorials Editor.
 

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