Virtual: Amélie and Margaux, Universities of Ottowa and Quebec, Canada

Amélie Leviel, Bachelor student of Chemistry (international option, year 3) is following a virtual exchange with the University of Ottawa and Margaux Rougier, Bachelor student in Earth sciences (year 3) is following a virtual exchange with the University of Quebec, Montreal, Canada. Read about their discovery of Canada from Bordeaux.

Amélie, Bachelor student of Chemistry (University of Ottawa) and Margaux, Bachelor student in Earth sciences (University of Quebec, Montreal).

How is your virtual exchange going?

AL: My virtual exchange is going well. I’m able to follow year 3 and year 4 Bachelor courses that are not available at the University of Bordeaux and that are very interesting. The experience corresponds to what I expected with all my classes are in English and a new way of learning about chemistry. All the courses that I had initially chosen for my exchange are proposed online and I have also registered for a non-scientific course “Women, gender and feminism” which teaches me more about Canadian culture.

MR: My virtual exchange is also going well. I got used to the time difference after 2 or 3 weeks. The Quebec system of teaching is very different to France, but it suits me just as well and the experience of remote studies meets my expectations. Even though I am not in the country, the lecturers from UQAM (Université du Québec à Montréal) follow our progress closely. They have adapted their teaching a lot for those students who are studying from a different country. For example, they organized a larger time slot for the mid-session exams so that we wouldn’t have to pass them too late in the day. Practical work is completed in pairs or by groups of three, so that we can meet people living in Quebec. Moreover, I chose some courses at the UQAM that aren’t offered by the University of Bordeaux.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this new form of exchange?

AL: Despite the ongoing health crisis, the virtual exchange allows me to follow courses that I had chosen at the University of Ottawa, and I get to practice my English. Moreover, the online classes enable me to work from anywhere as long as there is an Internet connection. However, the most important disadvantage is that this is not a real exchange. I specifically chose the International option for my studies to go to a foreign country, meet new people and discover a new culture. This is unfortunately not the case.

MR: The courses are well organized and I’ve discovered that it’s possible to follow a new system of teaching even from a distance. This form of exchange has also allowed me to save money since I am studying from my family home. However, there are drawbacks to this kind of mobility. The class schedules are very different, since they take place in Quebec with a 6 hour time difference and I have had to adapt my lifestyle in consequence. For example, I never start classes before 3 pm (9 am Quebec time) but I often finish very late, sometimes at 4 am (10 pm Quebec time). It’s not always easy. Student social life is very much reduced due to this significant time difference and I have not been able to discover the cultural and social aspects that I expected from this experience. This is quite frustrating.

Do you think virtual exchange can become, in the long-term, a new form of exchange? Would you recommend it to other students?

AL: I would recommend a virtual exchange to students who cannot leave next semester or next year if country borders are closed and physical exchanges still suspended. It is an interesting experience that compensates a little for the cancellation of a real exchange. It can also be a great option for students who lack the financial resources to go abroad. Nevertheless, in my opinion, a virtual exchange will never fully replace a real physical exchange. Although I am currently following Canadian courses from the University of Ottawa I am still in France and not experiencing immersion in a new country.

MR: It all depends on what we want for our professional career and what is happening in the world at that time. Personally, I chose to maintain my mobility because some courses that I really wished to follow were not offered in Bordeaux but were available in Montreal. Moreover, I wanted to experience the Quebec system of teaching. For sure, the physical mobility experience must be much more rewarding since students may learn about the social and cultural aspects of being in a different country. As I was entering my third year of undergraduate studies, I had already experienced student life and therefore didn't mind missing out on this. I would recommend to students (especially those who have already completed the initial years of their degree) to participate in virtual exchanges as it is still very rewarding. It is a great experience if you want to discover the education system of another country.

Is the virtual exchange a challenge for you?

AL: Not so much. Luckily I have adapted quickly and easily to online courses and, because I chose morning Canadian classes, I don’t suffer from the time difference (it is +6h so it corresponds to the afternoon for me). However, I do understand that online courses may be difficult as well as isolating for some students. Another drawback is that laboratory classes, essential to the subject of chemistry, are not possible online.

MR: My challenge was to find out if I could adapt to a different mode of learning. So I was very motivated, even when I found out that it would be a virtual exchange. This is an additional challenge with having to manage classes at late hours for a whole year. However, with motivation and the will to make it happen, everything should be okay!

Updated on 22/12/2020