What you need to know before your semester abroad

Every year in the middle of January, a selection of Laurier students make the decision to apply to study for a semester or year abroad.

In pursuit of expanding their post-secondary studies, students have the opportunity in their senior undergraduate or graduate years, to embark on taking their academic careers outside of the nation.

Through Laurier International, students follow an application process that requires the selection of three institutions that Laurier has already formed an international bond with.

It is in this selection of  international schools they wish to attend that the Laurier International office then pairs a student with the institution they feel best corresponds to their application. It is weighted heavily on a student’s letter of intent for the exchange.

The choice of three institutions is a crucial component of the exchange application. The international school that a student gets paired with can be the make or break aspect of going abroad.

Sometimes you will not be paired with your top choice of school. This is when you must realize that your third choice of school will be as critically important as your first choice. For many institutions the semester may be later than Canada’s, meaning you will be having a semester that does not line up to the rest of Ontario universities.

An example is how many European nations will have a spring semester instead of a winter. This is true in my personal exchange to Germany. I will be leaving in the middle of February and staying until July, two months after Ontario universities will have completed their semester.

The decision to take a semester abroad can also come down to being able to sacrifice some amazing opportunities at home. Some common obstacles against an exchange include giving up your full four-month summer or having to accept that you will have the second semester of third year graded through a pass/fail system.

Essentially, meaning that the GPA you have prior to going abroad will stay stagnant from before you leave to when you come back. This aspect can have an impact on graduate school applications or risk falling behind in course credits.

Understanding if risking other academic pursuits is worthwhile will come from heavily researching your desired international institutions. To make the wisest decision possible, you have to determine if leaving for a semester follows your undergraduate timeline and plans at Laurier.

This was something I have personally had difficulty accepting. To take off for five months halfway across the globe means giving up other exciting opportunities including a summer internship, executive roles on clubs and leaving friends and family for five months.

The last major component of choosing to follow through on an exchange is the financial component. An exchange is more expensive than an average semester in Waterloo. This means students going on exchange may have to look towards saving more money than in their first years of undergrad.

A lot of students will take up part-time work the semester before they leave to save for the one abroad. Laurier as an institution can be very helpful to students      going abroad in its provision of       scholarships, in addition to tips on budgeting while abroad. The financial component, albeit stressful, can be navigated with patience and planning for the semester ahead.

To all the students who are sitting in the place I was in last year, considering the opportunity to ‘run away’ from Laurier for a semester, I must say it is a challenging decision.

Although I know that going abroad to meet new people of diverse cultures, travel and attemptimg to speak a foreign language, will be important to my undergraduate education. To other students, it may not be worth giving up all the amazing experiences that being at Laurier or being home in Canada can offer.

Making the life-altering decision to run away to a new institution is a personal choice that must be carefully considered. Even the most adventurous individual will have doubts about leaving for a semester abroad.

However, if you are anything like me, no matter what the challenge over leaving is you might just reach the simple conclusion to go! It may just be the most memorable part of your undergraduate degree and may even make you appreciate Laurier more in the future.

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