My academic exchange in Canada suuuuucked
Updated: Apr 14, 2021
How to put this mildly? Doing an academic exchange abroad can be… not as great as you might think. Personally, I hated it.
No, this is not going to be a post complaining about Canada. There’s nothing wrong with Canada from what I can tell, although, if you don’t really like cold weather then it’s not the right place for you (me!) in the winter. I went there in the winter. From January until April, I lived in Canada. It was cold.
Truth be told, I didn’t even want to go to Canada. As a student of international relations in the Netherlands, all I wanted was to go to America. The United States of America, I figured, is where all the important foreign policy decisions are made. Plus, it’s cool. But all slots were full and Canada was the only other option besides Hong Kong, and Canada is way more like the United States than Hong Kong, so I chose Canada. I went to Montreal, to be exact.
In Montreal, I chose the worst possible subjects to study; U.S. Foreign Policy and French. Why was this so bad?
Well, it was 2006 and remember, the whole world was upset with the United States for going to war with Iraq based on a theory about WMDs. I had an Iraqi student in my class and he was really upset about everything, and I was a 22-year old idiot who just sat there every week to watch the showdown between the (American?) professor and this Iraqi guy who had lost a lot of family in the war.
French was an equally poor choice given that many people (especially the French, and most of my friends were French exchange students) think they speak funny French in Canada. The people in my class were all forced to learn French for a government job they wanted and hated every second of being in French class.
The guy who usually sat next to me had a different motive though. He was a part-time drug dealer, part-time rapper, part-time scammer who happened to be completely fluent in French and only took the course to get easy credit. Bored as he was, he constantly distracted me by rapping in French or making fun of the teacher’s accent.
I could go on and on about my negative experiences in Montreal. Like the fact that I didn’t have snow boats and the snow was three feet high the entire time I lived there. Or the fact that I had to take an illegal dish washer job to afford myself some snow boots. But I don’t want to diss Montreal, or the rest of Canada, which I was too broke to explore beyond a quick trip to Quebec, which was even colder than Montreal.
Oh well. The moral of this story is not that you shouldn’t study abroad, of course. Most people, I think, have a jolly good time when they do. I just wasn’t prepared mentally, academically, or financially. I can think of many things I would have done differently if I could do it all over again. The only consolation is that I did the most important thing right: I didn’t let this experience scare me into believing I couldn’t manage living abroad, or that I didn’t like it in general.
Two years after my student exchange debacle in Canada I moved to Nigeria for an internship and stayed there for a second internship. I’ve lived in five countries since then, and I feel like each time I have a better experience. Every time I move, no matter whereto, I know better what to do in order to feel comfortable. I think nobody can teach you exactly how to do it, because it’s personal. You have to trust the process, I guess. It’s worth it.
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For career advice from people with great international jobs check out:
Career advice with journalist Aisha Chowdhry
Career Advice with Entrepreneur Gertje Vanhoutte
Other posts on international careers on this blog:
17 Cool international affairs jobs I didn't even know existed
The art of networking in the field of IR — and why it always pays off
What resumes in international relations (should) look like: do’s and don’ts
How to go abroad, and then stay abroad, to start your international career
Internship Do's & Don'ts for Careers in International Relations