By: Abraham Omorogbe
My decision to go on an exchange was very impromptu! During my four years in Engineering at Mac, the idea of going on exchange wasn’t something that was pushed and isn’t really a thing that most Engineering students do. I have a strong feeling this is because of the tough engineering schedule. Lucky for me I realized I hadn’t taken any of my upper-year electives and I discovered I could take them on an exchange semester. It was a no-brainer for me. I snatched the opportunity to live in Lyon, France for 4 months; which was one of the best decisions of my life.
I initially thought my elective courses would be easy since I am an engineering student and we have the most difficult classes. I was wrong. In France I took a French language course, French culture course, an Intro to Human Rights Law course and Corporate Social Responsibility course. I was surprised by the amount that I learned in each of these courses, and how these disciplines had a vastly different foundation than Engineering. Unlike most of my Engineering courses, the questions in these courses didn’t have one scientifically correct answer. Instead, I found myself needing to construct an answer and explain why my answer was right. Most things were up for debate, as most things in the real world are!
Through these courses, I began to appreciate the intricacies of these different disciplines and their unique challenges. For me, the most intriguing challenge was learning French and taking a university-level language course for the first time. When I first started my French course and was attempting to speak the language, I remember the uneasy feeling that ran through my body – whenever the French prof asked me to read a French sentence, after every syllable I would think… did I say that right? was that correct? why do I sound so uneducated? – However, with time I became more confident and patient with the learning process. This allowed my French to improve and I began to communicate better with my French peers.
Ou est la toilette? French 101
Schooling in a non-Anglophone country, and learning the language is hard. However, I found that immersing myself in the culture, through sports and other extracurricular activities, made it is a lot easier to make friends, meet new people, and improve my French. Even if I wasn’t fluent in French, I found that body language and effort conveyed a lot and, as a result, it was easier to meet people, learn some French from them and get more involved in the typical French university student life.
Reflecting on my exchange, I can clearly see the advantages of taking different courses outside one’s discipline. I believe it teaches you immense perspective. You can be incredibly comfortable in a specific domain but when you are placed in a completely different environment, you have that feeling of almost stupidity or helplessness when you don’t understand a specific topic or term that seems obvious to everybody but you – especially things in a different language. I found learning like this expands your brain, making you a better communicator. In fact, learning things in a different way can feed into what you already know. I now recognize the assumptions in my explanations, and I’m able to explain myself more clearly and succinctly.
All in all, I feel this exchange not only made me a better student, it also made me a better person. Embrace that struggle, welcome the challenge and enjoy the adventure. Apply for exchange now.
Abraham Omorogbe is a McMaster Engineering student who studied in Lyon, France for four months.