Marnie Picken

Date: SP2, 2014
Degree Program: Bachelor of Health Science
Host University: Concordia University, Montreal
Host Country: Canada

Why did you choose your host university?

Firstly I narrowed down the countries that spoke English, I knew it would be even more challenging going to a country where English was not the first language, which left the UK, USA and Canada. I decided on Canada because I already knew people in the country and it wasn’t a place I had planned on travelling before, so what a good opportunity! Once I had decided on Canada I looked at all the Sister Universities that I could go to (some only accepted Arts Students etc) and it just so happened that my subjects matched up the best at Concordia University in Montreal. Being in a health focussed degree it was important for me to ensure the subjects I were to study matched as best they could to the ones I would have studied in SP2 at UniSA.

Picken 1What was the university like?

Concordia University has one of the highest rates of International Students in Canada, so I found that there were a lot of other people in the same situation as me. Compared to UniSA I found adjusting to the different way of teaching, structure of classes and the number of assessments difficult at first, but it got a lot easier once I settled in. I had to take 5 subjects at Concordia to get credit for 4 subjects at UniSA due to the number of credits each subject was worth, there was also a lot more assessments than what I was familiar with, particularly the subjects I was taking. At UniSA we get 3 or 4 major assessments per semester, but for most of my subjects at Concordia I had at least 6 assessments, however overall I found the workload quite similar. There are so many student groups at Concordia that have events all the time, as well as ones affiliated with the university, such as the International Student Office, so I never felt like there was no help with any issues I had.

What did you gain from your exchange experience and has it changed the way you think or altered your approach to life?

I have definitely learnt to respect people that have difficulty with English as a language. As Quebec (the province Montreal is in) is primarily French I had a lot of adjusting to do. Communicating with people in everyday situations, such as a supermarket, was no longer so simple because I don’t speak French. I gained a lot of respect for anyone learning a new language. Studying overseas also provided an aspect of global experience in my field. Just being able to see how the health system works overseas will be a huge influence on my understanding of health, potential workplaces and my future career in the Australian Health Care System.

I have become a much more confident person due to studying overseas, there were a lot of times I didn’t have a choice in getting out of my comfort zone, but in the end every experience I had was great and I wouldn’t have had half of them if I let over-thinking get in the way. If a great opportunity comes my way in the future, I know I will jump at it rather than think about it too much and let the boundaries of a comfort zone restrict me from doing what I love.

Picken 2What accommodation options were available to you?  How affordable was accommodation and would you recommend the same option to others?

There were a lot of options available in Montreal, and a lot of international students that were living with other international students in private accommodation however, I stayed in the Campus Residence because I knew it was going to make adjusting to living in Canada just that little bit easier. Although the rent was quite expensive (and is monthly) all utilities were included. Some may see it as a downfall others may not, but it was mandatory if living in residence to purchase a meal plan. In other words the food was provided for you, but you couldn’t cook for yourself, which can be quite restrictive if you have certain dietary requirements, or are vegetarian or vegan.

I would definitely recommend staying in residence to others, particularly if you hadn’t had that college experience before. It was a really great way to get to know people, and because there was always people around I never got the chance to get homesick or lonely, it really felt like family. Residence also provides RA’s or Residence Assistants on each floor who you can go to if you have any issues or just need someone to talk to. Residence was such a great experience and was definitely worth it.

Describe your travel experiences; did you travel locally or to neighbouring countries? 

I am very logical, so my travel plans were equally as logical. My semester in Montreal began on the 6th of January and ended on the 6th of May, which left me exactly 2 months after the semester had finished to travel. Because I was on the East coast, I visited all the cities and attractions in both Canada and the USA during the semester including New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Ottawa and Quebec City. Once the semester had ended and I had finished studying I travelled across North America to Chicago, Toronto, Calgary, Banff and Vancouver, and then down the West Coast stopping in Seattle, San Francisco and ending in LA where my flight left to return to Australia. 

Describe how you adjusted to life in a different country and how you met new people.

Concordia University has a lot of programs designed for incoming international students; this was one of the ways I adjusted. It was easy to meet other international students at the many workshops that Concordia provides. It was also easy to adjust living in residence; I didn’t have a chance to get homesick because there was constantly events on and always people around.

Can you see any benefits from this exchange to your future career?

There are many benefits to gain from exchange, not only do you get an international perspective on your degree and the way of life in a different country but you gain the ability to quickly adjust to new settings.  In a different country you learn a lot about cultural diversity that you would not gain at your home institution, so what I learnt about how to communicate with a range of people, specifically of a different race, ethnicity and language will strongly benefit my interactions and professional conduct in the workplace.

What advice would you give to a student who was hesitant or considering joining the exchange program?

You just need to commit to it. If you’re hesitant about studying overseas, what other things that you are faced with in your life, while studying or during your career will you be hesitant about? One of the things I learnt while overseas is not to ponder on major decisions, you just have to decide and make the best of the situation. If you feel like you’ll regret not doing something, then there is a good chance you should just do it and stop thinking about doing it.

Top Tips:

Let your guard down and get out of your comfort zone. A new friendship starts with hello.

Areas of study and research

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