McGill students share their frustration after the university reinstated their exchange program after cancelling it two weeks prior.
On Oct. 5, McGill University cancelled its student exchanges for the Winter 2022 semester due to the Canadian government’s global travel advisory, which advised Canadians to “Avoid non-essential travel” amid ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, in an email sent to students on Oct. 22, McGill announced the possibility of resuming exchanges for the winter semester due to the removal of the global travel advisory. In light of this news, many McGill students expressed their frustration with the university’s decision to cancel exchanges abroad for the third time, while Concordia University’s exchange program operated throughout the pandemic.
“Why can’t McGill logistically deal with this, when there is a school right down the street that’s doing it and has been doing it throughout this pandemic?” asked Max Garcia, a third-year geography student at McGill.
Discouraged and frustrated, Garcia took it upon himself to start a petition demanding a clear answer from the university.
After reaching 500 signatures, Garcia contacted the university and met with Fabrice Labeau, the deputy provost of student life and learning at McGill University, to further discuss how the cancellation affected students’ academic plans.
“People planned their lives around this. I took a course last winter in preparation for the exchange because it is a required thing that only happens in the winter, and I was supposed to take it this year. It’s things like that that [Labeau] just wasn’t getting,” said Garcia.
With Global Affairs Canada lifting the worldwide travel advisory for fully vaccinated Canadians, McGill is currently working with host universities to determine whether reinstatement of the Winter 2022 exchanges will be possible for some students.
But Madison Gordon, a third-year psychology major at McGill, shares the same frustration as Labeau.
“McGill was too quick to cancel the exchange and not look ahead at what the consequences would be. While they likely were not aware of when the global travel advisory would be lifted, I think that reinstating it after cancelling it was just a slap in the face, especially after many cancelled their accommodations [and] flights.”
The cancellation and reinstatement of the exchange program was a disruption to many other students. McGill stated in their email that exchanges actually happening are not guaranteed; however, the university is working with students and partner universities to ensure students proceed with their exchanges.
“It’s very possible that the host universities will have given away our spots to other international students. It’s not even a guarantee that I’m going to be able to go,” said Allie Fishman, a third-year management student.
All three students have stated that going on exchange is a personal choice, and a risk they are willing to take despite the pandemic.
“I just think it was kind of strange that McGill was making that decision on my behalf. When you know, there are already international students that come to McGill,” said Fishman.
According to Téo L. Blackburn, director of Concordia International, which represents the university in partnerships with over 180 educational facilities, said their team talked a lot about making a distinction between allowing exchanges and promoting them.
“It’s important that everybody understands that we weren’t recommending that you go on exchange. We are allowing you to go on exchange and making sure that if you were going on exchange, you are well informed, and you understood that we were there in case something happened,” Blackburn said.
Though McGill and UQAM based their decision on the Canadian Government’s global travel advisory recommendations, the Concordia International team decided to continue exchanges to give students the freedom of choice.
“I don’t know that I personally would have gone on exchange during COVID, and I know some of my international leaders and officers may not, and others may have, and that’s personal to them,” said Blackburn. “It’s personal to the students who do end up going.”
Photo collage by Kit Mergaert