A nightmare of an exchange program

Your dream is to study abroad, see a whole new world, experience a different culture and meet new people. But with your plans set to study out of the country, your once memorable dream turns into a nightmare.
Increasing your business edge, gaining a global perspective first-hand and networking yourself in the world marketplace are all dreams you have when you study abroad. The International Student Exchange Program (ISEP) for the John Molson School of Business (JMSB) offers all students who have completed at least 24 credits and maintain a cumulative grade point average at least 2.70 a chance to make your dreams become reality. But is it really worth all the heartache?
Djazia Louda, a finance student in her third year at Concordia University disagrees Like many students, Louda was fascinated by the prospect of studying abroad so she contacted Geraldine Ford, Program Assistant/ Counselor for the Center for International Academic Cooperation (CIAC).
Louda’s biggest challenges were choosing a university and registering for courses.
“The records and documentation’s about the schools were in most cases old. Plus, you couldn’t find the precise description of the courses on the web sites,” she said.
According to Isabelle Lacelle, coordinator for International student affairs for the JMSB, ” the application to go abroad is very lengthy and the research can be cumbersome.” Students must provide the JMSB with a bank statement, two letters of recommendation from professors at Concordia, three choices of host schools and a list of courses they wish to take.
After conducting her own research, Louda chose l’Ecole Superieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (ESSEC) in Paris, France as her destination.
Despite the wonderful learning experience, Louda had many disappointments. “Unfortunately with most of the things that were important to the exchange, I did not get any help, concerning where to stay and food expenses. The little information that I got was from the university there,” she remarked.
But, Louda’s largest obstacle was yet to come. Prior to leaving Paris, Louda discovered that her grades would only be available two months after returning to Montreal. At that time, she called l’ESSEC only to learn that the information was sent to the CIAC in mid-February yet still did not appear in her student record. Louda faced many more bumps along the way, including an extra course to graduate, but finally on Aug. 14, nearly seven months after returning to Montreal, all matters concerning the exchange were settled. Louda will graduate this fall.
According to Louda, “the program needs definite improvement.” Her advice to students who wish to study abroad: “if you’re really willing then be prepared to count mainly on yourself.”
Ford said that each faculty at Concordia and the CIAC have stepped up efforts in this direction.
Farah Da• is a third year finance student currently finishing her last 15 credits at the University of Connecticut (UCONN). She sees ISEP as an opportunity to expand her horizons, “experience a new lifestyle, have the ‘American college’ experience and meet new people.”
All the information that Da• received regarding UCONN was compliments of Lisa McAdam Donegan, international exchange coordinator for the university. Da• is not impressed with the way that Concordia prepares its students to study abroad. “They just give us the application and let us figure out by ourselves what to do. The people at the host university are much more helpful,” she said.
Da• was surprised at the amount of footwork that was involved.
“I had to do a lot of running around to get information about the study abroad bursary. Concordia is just not organized enough to send their students abroad,” she said.
According to Ford, detailed planning and preparation are necessary with any important undertaking. She said the most daunting tasks are “the completion of the ISEP application and supplying supporting documents in time for deadline.”
Da• arrived in Connecticut just last week and is very satisfied with her choice of schools. She recommends that students “ask questions, are persistent with the advisors at Concordia and get advice from former students who have participated in the program.”
Regine Jeudy is planning an exchange for the winter term. She is in her third year of marketing and applied to the CIAC last March. Until a month ago, she was under the impression that she would be leaving to the State University of New York (SUNY) this fall but due to an error in her application, her file was disregarded.
The CIAC is currently working very hard to ensure that Jeudy can attend SUNY in the winter. Jeudy hopes that Concordia will work equally as hard at improving communication between itself, its outgoing students and the schools abroad. “Worrying about details that could be easily be taken care of by Concordia should not be the concern of an outgoing student. Going to study abroad is nerve wracking as it is,” she said.
Not every student is displeased with the ISEP however. In fact, 64 students will be studying abroad for the 2001-2002 academic year. That’s a 100 per cent increase. incoming traffic has been even more successful.
Corine Solleveld studies Communications at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, but recently came to Montreal to do a semester at Concordia.
Solleveld was pleasantly surprised by the way she was welcomed.
” Before I even left for Canada I had received information about housing, student organizations and youth hostels. When I arrived, there was a welcoming program. The people at the international office were very friendly and helpful,” she said.
Overall, Solleveld was very pleased with the ISEP. ” I thought it was extremely well organized,” she noted.
So, if you’re hoping to study abroad this year, Louda, Da• , Jeudy and Solleveld have a couple of tips for you: start making arrangements as early as possible, ask as many questions as you can and finally, know what you’re getting yourself into.

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