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Should I go on an exchange?

Red toy airplane

International student exchanges are available at most, if not all, Australian universities. They can be short study programs overseas, or a full year abroad. It is usually a hard decision to make – both personally and financially. So why should you do it?

Farewell comfort zone…

Let’s face it. You’re in a rut. You are going to university in the same city you were born in, and you’re still living at home with your parents. Now none of this is necessarily bad, but what about a change?

Yes, law school is challenging, but the routine is the same every semester – start with high expectations, fall a bit behind, fail to catch up, and learn the entire course in one to four weeks of panic study. Sigh.

An exchange helps break out of this. For starters, you’re in a new university, city, and country. Secondly, there is a good chance that you know no one, so you have to practice those making-a-new-friend-who-I-can-hang-out-with skills. On top of that, you don’t have to (but can) study law on your exchange; what about burning through some of those arts/ commerce/ international studies electives? Finally, and most excitingly, for the most part you have no idea what is going to happen. There is nothing quite as refreshing as stepping into the unknown.

The people

An exchange is an amazing experience. I am currently at McMaster University in Canada doing the commerce side of my degree, and I am loving it.

What is the best thing? Probably being Australian. I’m not even joking. When you say that you’re an Aussie over here, people love you. Not all of them know where Australia is (“Australia? Is that somewhere in Germany?”), or (disturbingly) what language we speak (“You speak very good English for an Australian”), but they love us all the same.

They know we all surf, that every animal will kill you (although they are shockingly ignorant of the danger of Drop-Bears – don’t worry, I’m spreading the word), and that it is always hot. Even when they just hear you speak, you see a smile slowly spread across their face. This is nice in conversation, but when an entire class starts to grin as you make a presentation worth 15%, it is a little disconcerting – especially when it is on the not-so-amusing topic of the currency of Denmark.

But most of the friends I have made over here are not actually Canadian. There are a few other Aussies, a group of Brits, and some French, Germans, Serbians, Egyptians… you get my point. Mainly internationals and all of them are on exchange. Why? Because we can easily relate to each other, and we all met early on at Exchange Club events. This is excellent, as I am establishing friendships and international networks at the moment, which can only be helpful in this increasingly globalised society.

Break from law

I actually wanted to study law while I was here, but McMaster University doesn’t have a law school. I know, right? Still, this is the 65th (ish) best uni in the world, so let’s not get too snobby.

What I have realised over here is that I actually needed a break from law. I wasn’t getting sick of it, but the fact that I am not doing it makes me want to do it when I get home. Seriously, I really miss doing law work – that satisfying feeling of taking a side in an argument in class and having the perfect case to back it up, or recognising the facts of a case in an exam and knowing I’ll get at least that bit right. I miss all that, and I know that I will be happier doing law when I return than I was when I left. This trip has reminded me why I did law. (Of course, your experience may be different – it might make you realise that you hate law, but at least then you know).

Exchange also helps you to realise that your friends/ home city/ university/ parents are actually pretty awesome. I really appreciate all of these things a lot more now. Especially my home city, Adelaide. When I was there, I wanted out. Now I realise that it is actually a really, really nice place – minimal crime, no beggars, few crackheads, a reasonably good night life, friendly people, great beaches, and nice weather. Not that I’m yearning to go home, but I will be more appreciative of it when I do.

Go on exchange. Just do it.

You will have a great time, learn about yourself and a new culture, make heaps of great friends, and have awesome, life changing experiences. It’s not the easiest thing to organise, but nothing in life that’s worth doing is easy.

Your university will have an exchange office – go have a chat to them. They will let you know about costs, where you can go, what you can study, etc. If I have one recommendation for your time at university, it is that you go on exchange.

This story was submitted by Survive Law reader Lachlan Boucaut, a third year Law/Commerce student at Adelaide University who is currently participating in a one semester exchange to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

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