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See the world with purpose

The basics of studying abroad

Oxford. By John Woodworth/Getty Images

From the Maclean’s University Rankings, on sale now. Story by Jane Bao.

Study abroad programs let students immerse themselves somewhere else, maybe halfway around the world, while earning credit at their home university. And depending on the field, a stint overseas could give grads a career boost. It’s not uncommon for engineers to work abroad, says Jean Choquette, an executive director at Université de Montréal’s engineering school, École Polytechnique. “Openness to foreign cultures, languages and methodology are part of the basic competencies that employers are looking for,” says Choquette.

Tuition is paid to the Canadian university—a good way around some hefty international fees—but students must count on travel and living costs. And the door swings both ways, allowing international students to study in Canada and meet their Canadian peers.

In addition to formal exchange programs, co-op, research, and volunteer work abroad are other options. Careful preparation is key. Interested students should contact their school’s study abroad office, and see about scoring a scholarship to offset the costs. Depending on the destination, paperwork can require a student visa, health insurance, power of attorney and housing forms.

Once you arrive, remember to keep an open mind. “Be flexible. Go expecting your plans will change and have some ideas for alternatives,” advises Glynn Hunter, executive director of international services at the University of Calgary. Hunter also suggests packing a sense of humour: it helps to be able to laugh at yourself or see the funny side of a challenging situation. That’s good advice for anyone, anywhere.

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