Considering Academic Exchange? Go!

In my first year of university, I had the opportunity to go to an international field school in Vietnam for an academic exchange. I am currently in my final year and I have not had an experience as enriching as that trip.

Girl on train through a mountain range.

Photo by JK on Unsplash

The engineering field school was hosted by Vancouver Island University (where I was a student before transferring to UBC) in partnership with Tra Vinh University in Tra Vinh, Vietnam. We were paired with first-year engineering students at the university and we engaged in both cultural and engineering projects. It was amazing to see how similar we all were despite our differences. Aside from that, it can be really refreshing to take classes in a new setting with your new friends. For example, in our engineering projects we used recycled materials to build a playground equipment. We also assisted upper year students to repair electrical systems in remote farming households. The cultural projects were fun too – we learned Vietnamese dances from Khmer culture and how to cook local cuisine.

Naturally, I expected to learn about the culture and enjoy good food – you know, the simple pleasures of travelling. What I didn’t expect was to learn so much about myself and make great friends (mostly with the help of Google Translate)! There were, of course, many ups and downs during the trip, but in hindsight I feel like the “downs” were the best part. They put me in situations where I gained life experiences and personal insights.

It’s important to have an open mind and be adaptable when you’re on an exchange. The people that had the greatest time on the trip were open to unique experiences they could not find where they travelled from. For example, I quickly formed a morning routine of getting bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich) and cà phê sữa đá (iced milk coffee). I still miss this combination and the little old lady who sold them to me!

Wall of Lanterns

Photo by Steffen B. on Unsplash

Another thing to keep in mind is to stay curious and inquisitive about the new culture that’s around you. At first, it might seem overwhelming because each culture has unique values and social etiquette. However, my biggest takeaway from the trip was that whenever I got lost or confused, people were always willing to help me despite the language barriers! It was very heartwarming to see that kindness transcends all borders and cultures.

If you’re interested in going on exchange, UBC has many options! Consider doing a semester, summer or research abroad through Go Global! UBC also has classes with international field schools such as ISCI 361 (Hawaii), ISCI 461 (Iceland), or ECON 364B (India, Kenya, Uganda).

Have you been on exchange before? I would love to hear all about your experiences and favourite memories in the comments below!

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