Exchange programs bring risks: students

Students struggle to make credits add up while on exchanges

When Beth McNeil decided to study in Beijing last winter, she thought her biggest headache would be the culture and language barriers she was about to face.

Beth McNeil, a fourth-year political science student at King’s, says she’s struggling to balance a heavy course load after not keeping proper track of her credits before and during an exchange to China. (Photo: Laura Hubbard)
Beth McNeil, a fourth-year political science student at King’s, says she’s struggling to balance a heavy course load after not keeping proper track of her credits before and during an exchange to China. (Photo: Laura Hubbard)

But now, as she juggles seven courses at Dalhousie and the University of King’s College, and one online course through Athabasca University, she realizes she was wrong.

McNeil spent the 2012 winter semester at the University of International Business and Economics, hoping her experience would replicate an enjoyable exchange she went on in high school.

“I thought because the exchange I went on in high school (to Australia) was the best experience of my life and high school career, that this would be the best of my university career.”

McNeil says she was one of the few Dalhousie undergraduate students that have gone on an exchange to the university, although many Chinese students have come to Dal.

“It was a learning experience for everyone,” McNeil says of the exchange offered through Dal’s business department. “It was almost like I was the guinea pig for going to that school.”

Record keeping important when traveling abroad

McNeil admits many of her problems were her own fault: she didn’t keep lists of her credits. As well, she didn’t take a full course load so she could really immerse herself in the culture and experience all that Beijing has to offer.

In October — months after she returned — McNeil realized she was 2.5 credits short of graduating with her friends in May 2013, and had to start juggling her schedule and meeting regularly with the registrar.

Amy Braye, an advisor at the Dalhousie International Centre, says it’s important for students going on exchanges to submit letters of permission for credit transfers. They should also count their credits and plan their course schedules before leaving.

“It shouldn’t be a problem if the students do their preparations,” she says. “But it is the student’s responsibility.”

Braye also says it’s important to realize that education systems and credit hours are different in other countries.

“Exchanges are difficult because so many people take their North American education expectations and impose them on other institutions,” she adds.

She says a lot of times, a full course load in another country is only two classes but is counted as the full 15 credit hours awarded for a term at Dal. When a student returns home, they may need an extra class for the number of course credits to add up.

“But it doesn’t happen often that students need to stay at Dal longer,” she says.

And McNeil won’t. Although she’s busy, she’s not letting extra course work jeopardize the fun of her final year of university.

“It’s hard because the way they market it is ‘it’s so fun’ and it is. But they’re also trying to sell it,” she says. “There’s a lot of thought and work that goes with an exchange, too. People need to realize that.”

Studying at home

But not all students who apply for exchanges get to make the trek abroad.

Ken Wallingford, a King’s College journalism student, applied for an exchange to Russia to study during his third year.

He had been accepted, but during the summer before he was scheduled to move, he learned the program had been cancelled. He decided to spend last summer traveling, but wishes he had the experience of living and studying in another country and culture.

King’s College vice-president Kim Kierans says the exchange to Russia ended because it was a limited-term opportunity, and the administration at the University of St. Petersburg changed.

“My sister had done an exchange and she said it was the one thing I should do while in university,” Wallingford says. “I love to travel and I really wanted to experience life somewhere else.”

McNeil decided to travel to Beijing for the same reasons.

“My philosophy has always been go big or go home,” she says. “And why not go as far as I can and get as much experience as I can? When else will I get this international experience?”

McNeil says she’s glad she did the exchange, though.

“It would have been easier if I hadn’t gone, sure, but I would never say don’t do it.”



Wondering where you can go on an academic exchange while studying at King’s College or Dalhousie? Take a look at our map of university-wide exchange opportunities:

View King’s/Dal Exchange Opportunities in a larger map

(For a list of department-specific exchanges, visit the Dal International Centre website)