Surviving an exchange

When I decided that I wanted to participate in the International Exchange program, I was thrilled at the idea of going to a different country and taking courses that would contribute to my degree at home. The experience, however, proved long and frustrating. Although my time spent overseas was the best time of my life and an episode that I wouldn’t trade for anything, the application process could have been a lot smoother.

If you are interested in participating, my advice is this: do it, but brace yourself for a long process. The first step is to go online to the International Exchange website ( This site provides students with a list of partner institutions, application documents, transfer credit information and how to contact the office.

All the documents required can be found on the website. You will need to fill out an online application form and submit a letter of interest, a resume, two letters of reference, and a copy of non-U of T transcripts. All of these documents should be completed before the deadline to leave time for any adjustments or unforeseen delays. Once the ISXO processes your application, they will contact you for an interview. If deemed a proper fit for the exchange program, you will be nominated and your application sent to the host school.

After the application is completed, be prepared to wait until the beginning of May before finding out if the host institution accepted you. During this time, you are required to attend a pre-departure orientation that prepares you for obstacles that you may encounter during your time abroad, as well as information on transfer credits. I recommend getting a pre-departure course authorization form signed to ensure the courses you have chosen to take overseas will transfer back to your U of T degree. You will also need a copy of the syllabus for each course taken. While away, you should ensure your overseas transcripts will be sent to the exchange office.

The exchange program can be costly although you don’t pay tuition to the host school. Exchange students are required to pay tuition and incidental fees to U of T. You will also have to cover the costs for mandatory overseas health coverage, airfare, living expenses, books and supplies and other miscellaneous costs. I highly recommend that you apply for any scholarships that you are eligible for, including the ISXO bursary, to help with these costs.

Other things to note: you are responsible for arranging living conditions, ensuring that you are enrolled in courses at your host school, checking any travel advisory warnings, obtaining a valid passport and securing any required visas.

My last bit of advice is to expect a shock when you arrive overseas. Regardless of your best efforts to prepare yourself, going to another country on your own where you don’t know anyone freaks out the best of us. After the initial shock, however, you will find that your time overseas will go by very fast. Make as many new friends as possible, explore the country as much as you can and enjoy the experience to the fullest because nothing you have ever done before will quite compare to the amazing experience you
will have.

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