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Things I Wish I Knew Before Going on Exchange

If you’re lucky enough to go on exchange, it can be one of the best experiences of your university career. However, it is both scary and stressful to prepare to be in a totally different country, time zone or continent. Here are four things I wish I knew before I went on exchange: 


Take Advantage of the Fanny Pack 

I know people warn you to be wary of carrying cash due to the danger of pickpockets, but it doesn’t really seem real until it happens to you. My first night going out while I was on exchange, someone unzipped my purse and took out my wallet. Luckily, I noticed right away and was able to push through the crowd and get back my wallet before they took out any ID or credit cards, but I was out of a lot of cash. I immediately went to buy a fanny pack the next day. Luckily, the ‘80s are back and fanny packs are in fashion, so take advantage!

Have Multiple Cards, if Possible 

I had heard that, for some reason, certain credit and debit cards work in certain countries, while others don’t—I had thought it was a myth. Luckily, I had two separate bank accounts open (one with Scotiabank and one with TD). For no apparent reason, at some places the TD card would work and not the Scotia, and vice versa. Also, at some places, only my credit card would work and not my debit, so make sure you have a credit card if possible! Another top tip: Scotiabank is the only Canadian bank that is part of the Global ATM Alliance, so if you check their website, they may be partnered with a certain bank in your host country where you won’t have to pay any surcharges when withdrawing money, helping you to save on fees!

Don’t Wait for Other People to Plan Your Trips 

Ryanair is notorious for having cheap flights across Europe, and it is true that you can find some really good deals. That being said, a ticket that was 20 euros one week, may turn into 120 euros in the next. Once you establish your class schedule and see when you have your exams and assignments, buy your tickets as soon as you can. You may really want to travel with a group of friends, but waiting for everyone to make a decision is either going to turn into a trip that never happens, or one that costs you five times as much as what you first anticipated. Also, if you take the leap and book your ticket, it’s likely that others with follow. If not, it’s an adventure that will definitely teach you to be more independent, and you won’t miss out on visiting your dream city because you were waiting on someone else. 

Triple Check Your Transfer Credits! 

I know McGill stresses this, but they also make it incredibly complicated. The course equivalency calculator is a helpful tool, but just because you’re taking a course that is equivalent to a 3-credit course at McGill does not mean you will receive 3 credits for said course. Does that make sense? No, but you have to determine what is the appropriate number of classes for you. Different continents have different requirements that will amount to McGill credits. For example, in Europe, 30 ECTS is equivalent to one semester at full course load at McGill, and classes are typically 5 ECTS, meaning you will have to take 6 classes in lieu of 5, even if they are all equivalent to 3-credit courses. Very confusing, but very important to establish pre-departure if you don’t want to graduate late! 

Planning for exchange can be stressful, but if you follow these tips it can save you time, money, and stress in the future. Most importantly, be safe and happy travels! 

Mara Lamont

McGill '20

Mara Lamont is a 4th year Political Science student at McGill University with minors in Italian and Marketing. She is an aspiring lawyer, interested in defending people who may not otherwise be given a voice. Outside of the classroom, her interests include yoga, baking and reading classic literature.
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