A Caribbean on a Study Exchange in Canada

A Caribbean on a Study Exchange in Canada

Alexandra Cintrón JiménezHow Did I End Up Doing My Study Exchange in Canada?

Ever since I started college I knew I wanted to study abroad or participate in an exchange program. I visited my undergraduate International Affairs office to find the best option for me. Even though I wanted to study in Europe, I ended up doing my study exchange in Canada. A lot of the study abroad programs my university offered were expensive and I was worried I was going to struggle to afford living abroad. I wanted to enjoy my time abroad, without major financial anxieties. While I was looking at programs, I didn’t realize how many scholarships there were to study overseas, although I am well aware of them now. 

I ended up applying for the National Student Exchange Program. This program “provides accessible collegiate study away to undergraduate students at member colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.” An amazing aspect of this program is you are able to pay your home institution’s rates to your host institution. Once I found NSE, I decided this was the best option for me. Then, it was time to pick a university!

Not My First Choice

A few years back, I had an amazing vacation in Canada. I still wanted to explore a ton of places, so I started researching institutions in the Great White North. Before I’d even applied for NSE, I had already reviewed some courses from Canadian institutions where I could get my credits transferred during my study exchange in Canada. On the NSE application, I could list a few institutions I felt interested in attending. Unfortunately, my advisor recommended me to add a university in Quebec before I had a chance to fully research it. Since it wasn’t my first choice and my advisor placed me there, I ended up not enjoying the experience as much as I had envisaged. Mais, c’est la vie.  

A photo of Alexandra in front of her college building during her study exchange in Canada.

My Study Exchange in Canada Experience

August 24th 2017: I arrived in Quebec, Canada. From the moment I stepped out of the airport, it was an adventure. Since I flew a few days before my program’s arrival date, the university didn’t receive me at the airport. I am not fluent in French, so looking around the airport at all of the signs was a whirlwind. I wound up paying hundreds of dollars for an Uber because the university was two hours away from the airport. Now, I’ll put up my hands and admit that I didn’t do my research about public transportation in Quebec. After a long flight, I just wanted to arrive on campus. That’s why I ended up booking an Uber and paid a lot more than I could have if I’d just done some research beforehand.

When I finally arrived at the university, I felt impressed by its beauty. I met up with a friend from my home campus who was also participating in the program. He helped me check in since he knew more French than I did. The language barrier was hard to adjust to, so it was difficult to assimilate for four months. Another issue was that I didn’t feel challenged in my courses. Although I had a hard time fitting in initially, I found other Latin students who I socialized with more. In general, international students interacted more with each other than with domestic students, which I found very interesting. 

A photo of Alexandra's campus in the winter.
University Campus

Going Solo

By October, I decided to explore the other side of the country during midterm week. I went on a solo trip to Calgary, Banff, Vancouver, and Victoria. It was the best time I had in Canada. In Calgary, I explored Prince Island’s Park and Fort Calgary. Then, I drove to Banff National Park. Banff was incredible. I went to Lake Louise and the picture below can’t do any justice. After a couple of days in Banff, I drove back to Calgary and took a plane to Vancouver before hopping on a ferry to Victoria. 

There, I dropped by  Craigdarroch Castle at the University of Victoria. It has a very interesting and rich history dating back to the early 20th century. In Victoria, I also spent time at The Butchart Gardens, a beautiful nature park. Towards the end of my trip, I returned to Vancouver and visited the Vancouver Lookout and Hatley Castle. A fun fact about Hatley Castle was that they filmed some scenes of Arrow and the X-Men movies here. My solo trip to the west side remains my most memorable experience of my Canadian sojourn. 

A photo of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, which Alexandra visited during her study exchange in Canada.
This photo is of Lake Louise, Banff.

 

Alexandra posing in front of the city on her last day of her study exchange in Canada.
Someone took this picture for me on my last day in Canada at Mont Du Royal.

Things Don’t Have to Be Perfect

I think it is important to tell study abroad stories that were not perfect. Even though the institution I ultimately wound up attending wasn’t my top choice, I ended up going because it was the last year I could go. During my final year of college, I had to stay at my home institution. As an Education major, I had to complete a pre-practicum and a teaching practicum. 

Be Prepared

If you’re planning your study abroad trip, my recommendation is to only listen to yourself and your interests. Take into consideration recommendations from others, but at the end of the day, you’re the one spending months in a new place. Make sure it is the best choice for you. If you are going to a place where you don’t know the language, try to learn it before you arrive. Your life will be so much easier. You can interact with the locals and immerse yourself in the new culture, which really is the purpose of an education abroad.

A photo of the inside of an uber car

Finally, do your research (especially in terms of transportation). I know that not having a plan can be exciting, but planning ahead can save you a lot of money. To me, this experience wasn’t perfect because it wasn’t what I was expecting academically. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t feel challenged in my courses. A limited number of course options and different metrics in terms of my language level stopped me from enjoying it more.

While my experience during my study exchange in Canada wasn’t perfect, I still had a great time and was glad to have branched out during my studies. I will always remember my trip to western Canada and will carry the lessons I learned with me for the rest of my life.

56 thoughts on “A Caribbean on a Study Exchange in Canada

  1. This would be an interesting experience. I have always wanted to visit Canada. I’m glad you were able to learn some things.

    1. Absolutely, he should check his university Study Abroad or Student Affairs office to learn more about what programs are available.

  2. Glad you enjoyed your time here. Perfect is overrated anyway right? 🙂 I bet your adventures brought spice and excitement to your stay.

  3. I always wanted to do a study program abroad. Your adventures sound wonderful, even if the university wasn’t your first choice.

    1. I recommended it a 100%, if you’re out of college there are other opportunities such as volunteering or interning abroad available.

  4. It must be great to study abroad. Canada must have been amazing. It’s great you can study and see the country.

  5. I always fancied going to study abroad but was never something I could manage to do with my health. A lovely way to learn about another place.

    1. This year has brought some innovation, and it may not be the same but there are virtual programs you can check out!

    1. It is, if you’re out of college you can check out some volunteer abroad opportunities that are short-term.

  6. This is such a wonderful experience and will definitely be a good story to tell and motivate people. Thanks for sharing.

  7. This is a great experience and takes great courage. I’m glad you did well and learn lots of things through your abroad experience. I always wanted to try new stuffs to explore and be brave to learn new things. Interesting story!

    1. Thank you! It takes courage indeed, when I mentioned I was going to travel solo to other people, they were truly surprised.

  8. Oh wow. It must have been such a huge change from the tropics to the Great White North. These are the kinds of experiences we never forget in our lives.

  9. This must have been so amazing. What a wonderful experience to be able to do. It’s nice to be able to learn from other places like this.

  10. Talk about going out of your comfort zone! From the tropics to the tundra, eh? That’s pretty amazing. It’s something you will never forget.

  11. It sounds like your study abroad was a very enriching experience. I wish I could have done something like that when I was in college.

  12. What a great experience! Canada looks incredible, I would love to visit one day. I was I had the opportunity to study abroad whilst I was studying.

  13. One of my dreams is to study abroad but I think it is not meant for me. I am so happy to hear about your beautiful experience of studying abroad.

    1. If you’re still studying, check the Student Affairs Office at your university. There are many resources to support all students who want to study abroad.

  14. Welcome to Canada! I hope you’ve really enjoyed your experiences here and that you return to our country again soon. 🙂

    1. Thank you! 🙂 Can’t wait to go back, there are many places I didn’t get the chance to visit.

  15. Nice that you came and enjoy a piece of our country. Canada 🇨🇦 is wonderful hope you will visit us again

  16. That is awesome that you were able to do an exchange abroad program. I remember our family hosted two exchange students, one from France and the other from Japan. They each loved it. I lived abroad for two years, although it wasn’t for study, it was as a missionary for my church, so a little different, but still awesome!

    1. Hosting exchange students sounds amazing! Having any experiences abroad is awesome either teaching, interning or volunteering. As cliché as it sounds, they are life-changing.

  17. I have wanted to visit Lake Louise for so long! Sounds like an amazing opportunity, the trip and experience of a lifetime.

  18. I have only been to Toronto. My daughter is wanting to do a study abroad program and has been considering Canada. She is not sure yet where in Canada yet and definitely needs to do her research. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. That’s awesome that she is thinking about studying abroad and yes, research is very important!

  19. I’m sorry that you didn’t get everything you wanted out of your experience academically. But I’m happy you go to visit Western Canada and enjoyed your time there. I hope someday you can come back and visit the East – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland. The Atlantic Provinces are so lovely (I say this as a New Brunswicker, so I do admit that I’m biased haha). Wishing you well and I hope there is tons of wonderful travel and adventures ahead in your future.

    1. Hahahaha it is on my bucket list to go back and visit other places I didn’t get the chance to while I was there. Thank you!

  20. I had wanted to do this when I was younger, but I end up marrying early and migrating 😀 so I just study at home and travel one in a while… 🙂 Beautiful photos, and it’s really nice that you learned from and enjoyed the experience…

  21. Great to read about your experience. Even though it was not perfect, and nothing ever is, it sounds like you learned a lot. I’ve traveled through Canada and would like to explore even more.

  22. Sounds like you had a wonderful time there overall. Not perfect but still a great experience. Would love to visit Canada someday.

  23. I appreciate your attitude because you made the best of a not so perfect study abroad experience. Your tips are good reminders for others planing to study abroad.

    1. Thank you, I really appreciate your comment and I am glad it can be helpful to others planning to study abroad. 🙂

  24. This really great that you are study in Canada. Great experience and this tips are good reminders for us who want to study abroad. excellent.

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