Salma Rana, Queen’s University, Canada
My first semester as an exchange student, in Canada, is coming to an end, and those of you at university know that sometimes this can feel like a lifetime. I’m going to do some pitstops of my experience here so far, showing you my highs and lows, some of the lessons I’ve learnt and things I have been inspired by. This will be split into a few blogposts that I will be posting over the next couple of weeks.
The past few months have been a true learning experience. The academic structure is very different here at Queen’s. Firstly, “electives” are encouraged here. When I arrived at Queen’s, I was only given two psychology modules for this semester. Although this was stressful at first, it turned out to be one of the best things. I took some gender studies courses instead, where I got the chance to understand history, politics and sociology in ways I hadn’t considered before. I was also given a chance to learn about the indigenous history of Canada, something that isn’t talked about enough. These ideas combined has allowed to me think about my major, psychology, in a more inclusive context, opening my mind to knowledge that I may not have been exposed to if I had stuck to only psychology courses.
First tip: Take some courses outside of your degree! I promise it will be worth it.
The workload here is A LOT more intense than what I am used to at the University of Manchester. Over there for each module, I am given one piece of main coursework and one exam at the end, with both being weighted around the same. Here, however, there is coursework due in almost weekly per course, with midterms, participation marks… and a final exam. This was stressful at the beginning of the semester, but now I am actually very grateful for it. It has meant that I have been learning a lot as the semester goes on (not just around exam time), as I am assessed regularly. And, as incredibly cliché as it sounds, I have to say that I have been improving my time management skills.
Second tip: When considering which country and university to do your exchange in, it is important to research the assessment methods and weighting. This can affect your satisfaction with your exchange as a whole. I have met many students who are unhappy because the emphasis on coursework does not suit their needs.
I also have been very inspired by the lecturers. Something I love about the experiences I have had with my lecturers here is that they make an effort to connect with us. I have managed to collect so many anecdotes and wisdom passed on from the experiences by my lecturers. My psychology professor often turns segments of his lectures into motivations talks, where he talks about how important it is to be optimistic. He contextualised his own experiences, where he went from wanting to be an accountant, to becoming a cleaner, to becoming a Clinical Psychologist and a hockey coach. This reminded me that there isn’t just one linear road in life, you can take many twists and turns and end up being more content than you ever imagined.
One professor talked about how life circumstances left her financially independent during university, having to pay for tuition and living expenses by herself, but is now an insightful writer, a passionate activist, an inspiring teacher. She makes me want to stop feeling sorry for myself when things don’t go to plan. Just being in her presence makes me want to do more. Another professor has taught me things I have yet to truly understand (no seriously, I have a word document full of long words I have not had a chance to dictionary.com). I will always remember her coming up to me up at an MSA (Muslim Student Association) stall, and while not being Muslim herself, she told me that she is rooting for us. This led me to redefine my personal understanding of unity. My lab instructors taught me that patience is a bigger virtue than I had realised. Honestly, I don’t understand how they dealt with me being confused about statistics for a whole semester.
Third tip: Introduce yourself to your lecturers.
A huge part of my learning experience has been spending time with other exchange students, from all over the world. I have been living in “Jean Royce Hall”, located a 10-minute bus ride away from the main campus. This is the only residence offered to exchange students and at first, I was a bit hesitant, because of the location and the fact that I would have to live in shared accommodation with many people. However, it turned out to be a good choice. Firstly, there is a shuttle bus that goes to and from main campus every 15 minutes, as well as other city buses that are even more frequent. All students at Queen’s also get a free bus pass, which is definitely a plus. Also: there is a very pretty library just next door, which has meant that on my days off, and especially when the weather is bad, I can study productively… in my pyjamas.
Disclaimer: If you are considering living in Jean Royce, a fallback is that it is on the more expensive side – it turns out that if I lived off-campus in a house it would have been half the price….
Fourth tip: Pros of living in residence at Queen’s are meeting lots of different people, it is regularly cleaned, it is very safe and there is a library. Pros of living off-campus are getting to know Canadian students better, it’s cheaper and possibly closer to the main campus.
Living with other exchange students has meant that I have been able to get to know and learn from students from Japan, China, Nepal, Australia… and more! This has been so eye-opening and inspiring. I have been inspired by students such as Satsuki, who keeps an “English” journal – whenever she learns a new word during a conversation, she writes it down in her journal, researches it later, and tries to apply it in another conversation. There’s also Juno, who works hard day and night, reading everything she can about Renaissance art and Romanticism, dreaming of opening a history museum when she is back in China. Then there’s Franziska, who is one of the rare people in her town to have left it, breaking the norm and stereotype there, that women are to stay at home.
While experiences like this are motivating, they also have made me aware of some of my privileges that I have unknowingly taken for granted, especially in England. It can be very easy to stay in a safe bubble in life, spending time with people like you, but it is definitely worthwhile to talk to people who are different to you (whether it is because they come from a culture that is different to yours… or just study a different course). We can’t live a hundred different lives, but we can learn from a hundred people who live a different life to ours.
Fifth tip: Spend time with people who are different to you.
Questions and comments are welcome!