As the majority of Laurier’s student body descend upon the Waterloo and Brantford campuses this week, a select number of students will be experiencing academic life in an entirely different setting.
Members of the Laurier Student Abroad Program, who are studying overseas this fall term, are seizing the opportunity to integrate globalization into the university life.
“An exchange is a phenomenal addition to your degree. To study in another country, immersed in another culture and language, is an amazing challenge to have risen to,” proclaims Lise Pedersen, manager of programs and services at Laurier International.
In addition to increasing Laurier’s global recognition, the exchange program offers a chance for Laurier students to become globalized citizens, aware of and engaged in the issues of an ever-changing world. Students have the potential to learn a second language, better their future job opportunities and ultimately learn more about themselves and the world around them.
“Not so quick to speak, slower to listen.”
This is how Laurier student Stephany Lau describes herself after spending a term at Universidad de Sonora in Mexico. Lau credits the exchange program with helping her to grow as a person. “It is important to know where you stand on world views and to gain a perspective other than your own.”
Laurier’s student exchange program operates on a reciprocal basis; for each Laurier student who attends a university abroad, an international student from that university is hosted by Laurier.
Preparing for life in another country is a complicated process. Health insurance, immunizations, passport and visa applications are some of the more concrete issues to be covered. Other areas of concern can include dressing appropriately, adapting to local foods, coping with jet lag and even adjusting to sexual and gender expression in a different culture.
Some degree of culture shock is a common experience, though Lau found that some cultural differences were easier to overcome than others. “Men treat you differently in other countries. They hit on you more aggressively,” she says. The language barrier also created some difficulty, as Lau did not become fluent as quickly as she had hoped.
The challenge of adjusting can be somewhat lessened with the help of an effective support network.
“It can be incredibly tempting to want to stay in your room for the first day or two. But when you get out there and meet other exchange students, it relaxes you so much to realize that there are others in the same situation,” said David Petrie, a Laurier graduate who studied at Oslo University College in Norway.
Like Petrie, Lau credits the friendships she established in Mexico with helping to sustain her through tough times abroad. She got to know her housemates well over the course of the trip, and explains the unique nature of the relationship.
“It was a friendship based on body language too, because speech wasn’t the only way of communicating.
The friendship was very pure. It led to an entirely heartfelt way of bonding,” said Lau.
When considering an exchange, other factors include the cost, both financially and academically, of studying abroad. Students in the program pay Laurier tuition, not international student fees.
But depending on the city and the currency conversion rates, it can be expensive to live elsewhere for an extended period of time. And for those students who go on to apply to grad schools, the grades they earned while abroad may be detrimental to their GPA.
Petrie, who is currently completing his MBA, admits that his focus during the exchange was primarily on gaining life experiences, saying, “I wasn’t there just to have great grades.” Though an exchange may not be for everyone, for those with a strong will, confidence and the ability to be flexible and step outside their comfort zone, the exchange program can be the perfect way to round out the university experience.
For Petrie, time spent abroad was an empowering achievement.
“If you are capable of living in another country by yourself, you are pretty much capable of anything.”