Rona Ghanbari (3L)
Last year around this time I was having an internal dilemma about going on exchange. I had doubts for various reasons. I was concerned about the cost, the expenditure of time and energy (both to apply and to move to another country), and had severe FOMO about the new building and life at U of T during my last year of law school. All of a sudden, every single course was doubly interesting, every extracurricular more pressing. I had already done an IHRP internship over the previous summer, and my line of credit seemed dangerously close to maxing. I did end up going on exchange though, and I don’t regret making that decision whatsoever. There are myriad reasons why people don’t go on exchange, be they financial or family related, or just not feeling like it. This article doesn’t intend to trivialize any of that, but my message here to anyone on the fence is that I really encourage you to take the leap and go—and here’s why:
- It is a break from the hustle and bustle of U of T Law.
It’s no secret that the level at which we are expected to operate and compete for grades, jobs, and opportunities can be physically and emotionally taxing. Although the school puts effort into supporting us and providing mental health resources, sometimes what you actually need is a break from this environment. Going on exchange lets you still feel engaged and involved with academia and the law while, at the same time, switching up everything else about your surroundings completely. Depending on which school you decide to attend, the program can also be much less demanding. You also have the ability to decide whether you want to take on anything on top of your coursework. Of course you have this ability at home too, but the pressure to be involved on campus or in the community disappears when you know you’ll only be there temporarily.
- You do actually end up learning—even if you didn’t mean to.
To be completely honest with you, I didn’t decide to go on exchange for the purpose of academic fulfillment. I did choose a school that I thought would be interesting, and being in Amsterdam meant I got to be close to the International Criminal Court. But, ultimately, the largest draw for me was the mental health break and the travel opportunity. However, I must admit that I underestimated how much I was actually going to learn while on exchange. Being exposed to the legal and political systems of different countries really provides an interesting perspective through which to examine what we are learning in Canada. In Europe, there are currently a lot of socio-political issues centred around immigration and religion that are reflected in the law (like the anti-burqa decrees). This meant that I had some interesting (heated) debates in class; my eyes really opened to how public opinion can make big waves in the law, and what protections there are for minority rights. I wouldn’t have been exposed to this in the same way from behind a laptop in Canada surfing the Internet about European law.
- It opens your eyes up to opportunities for work abroad.
Whether we like to admit it or not, U of T is (mainly) a corporate feeder school. Although some of our classmates get amazing jobs in other areas without leaving the country, being abroad opens your eyes further to some of the incredible opportunities available for smart, hardworking, young people overseas. If you have an itch to work for an international NGO, or even a transnational corporation, networking while on exchange may be your foot in that door!
- Toronto is hella expensive, and you can live frugally while abroad.
The cost of exchange was admittedly a huge concern for me personally, but I’ve found the Netherlands to be cheaper than Canada in many ways. If you’re worried about finances, you may not want to go somewhere like Geneva or London, but there are so many other options that won’t break the bank like those surely will. For example, Budapest is one of the most reasonably priced cities to live, eat, and drink in! You don’t have to stay in every night to go on exchange and live cheaper than in Toronto!
- It may be your last chance to live and work somewhere else for a long while.
We always talk about work-life balance and how to get it right. But, if we are being totally honest with ourselves, the first few years in any position entail learning the ropes through hard work and total dedication. If you’ve scored a sweet gig in Toronto, or anywhere in Canada for that matter—be it corporate, government, NGO, or anything else—you likely won’t have the opportunity to live for months abroad or to travel relatively freely for quite a long time. Call it YOLO or Carpe Diem or whatever you want: just take advantage of the opportunity to screw off for four months, not only without consequence, but while actually fulfilling your obligations! TAKE IT AND GO!
- Bonus reason! You deserve to have fun!
If your problem with going on exchange is FOMO in Toronto, don’t let that hold you back. I do admit that there were many courses I really wanted to take at U of T, and I was apprehensive about leaving all my friends from school behind during our very last year together. But going somewhere totally new, meeting new people, and experiencing new things without the pressures you face at home is something all of us deserve.
You’ve worked so hard to get where you are, so you deserve to go out with a bang! Your enjoyment, growth, and emotional education are worth the investment of time, money, and energy. I promise you won’t regret it!