“Employers loved hearing about my exchange experiences in interviews, and I think discussing my exchange and what I learned helped me get my current job as a Law Graduate in Sydney.”
If you have ever dreamed of a gap year but didn’t want to put your studies on hold, studying abroad through a student exchange program might be the perfect opportunity for you to gain international experience while continuing your education. Just ask Rebecca from Sydney, who studied in Montreal, Quebec.
“I chose Canada because I had never been to the country before and wanted to see somewhere new – I also wanted to experience living in a snowy climate. I picked Montreal specifically because I was interested in how multicultural the city is and wanted to see the blend of French and Northern American culture,” Rebecca said.
“It was quite different to what I expected, probably because Montreal has the North American and French influence – university felt more like a US ‘college’ (especially with ice hockey games), while the culture felt more European.”
Australian and Canadian institutions have a long history in student exchange, with over 350 formal agreements in place to support students to take on international experiences. With both countries boasting high quality institutions and study experiences, and excellent quality of living – it is an obvious match.
Australian universities are building their programming and support for their students undertaking international experiences.
Nearly a quarter of the Australian undergraduate, graduating cohort in 2019 took advantage of an international experience as part of their degree.
As a law student, Rebecca chose Montreal specifically due to its distinct legal structure, based on the combination of English and French systems.
“I studied four law subjects: Medical Liability, Environmental Law, Employment Law and International Criminal Law. They were super interesting because Montreal has a blended civil/common law system.”
Learning about, and experiencing another country’s systems, gave Rebecca the hard and soft employability skills that institutions want for their graduates. Students undertaking international exchange learn to adapt to a different world, gaining cultural awareness and building international networks – key skills for the increasingly globalised economy.
For many, it’s also a challenge and lesson in independence.
“Exchange was my first time living out of home, so I learned to cook and clean for myself in a country where I was unfamiliar with the foods and brands and currency,” Rebecca said.
She said that at times it was challenging to balance taking care of herself, keeping up with classes and making new friends, but it was an experience that made her more resilient.
“I set myself a few easy goals each day until I felt better to maintain momentum. It made me more confident and independent.”
Rebecca firmly believes that the international experience helped boost her employment prospects in Sydney when she returned.
A study into the employment outcomes of learning abroad, by the International Education Association of Australia, showed that graduates felt they gain important skills such as leadership, flexibility, communication skills and resilience. The study looked at employment outcomes of multiple origin countries (e.g. the US, Japan and Italy) and found that more than 60% of students undertaking an international experience found it helped their career prospects, with some attributing the experience to obtaining their current job .
Of course, the experience wasn’t all study! From daily walks up Montreal’s Mont Royal to late night poutine at La Banquise, Rebecca’s time in Canada gave her the opportunity to enjoy the culture and lifestyle of Quebec.
“My most memorable experience would be the Winter Carnaval in Quebec City – making maple taffy, going down ice slides, buying hot drinks at a bar made entirely from ice.”
But, the best thing about Canada? Rebecca says it’s the people.
“I loved Canadians – they were so friendly. I made friends with people who came from all different parts of the world – I still keep in touch with all of them.”
In fact, one of Rebecca’s housemates became her boyfriend and now lives with her in Sydney.
They hope to return for a visit soon.
“As soon as we are able, my boyfriend and I want to go back and see some of the national parks and revisit Montreal,” Rebecca said.
For anyone looking to study abroad, Rebecca has this advice: “Go in with an open mind and seize every opportunity you can. My only regrets are the events, trips, and experiences I didn’t partake in.”
To learn more about Canada as a study destination visit: www.educanada.ca
To share your own #CanAdventure, visit: www.canadadownunder.org.au/canadventure
 Potts, D. (2018), Learning abroad and employability: researching the connections, International Education Association of Australia, The University of Melbourne