By: Cassie Simmons
I think we can all admit that the opportunity to travel is one of the biggest reasons students often want to study abroad. While being able to travel is undoubtedly a highlight of studying abroad, another great aspect is the experience you can get by getting involved at your host university. Getting involved in an extracurricular while on exchange can be rewarding in so many ways.
Getting involved on exchange can be a huge selling point on your resume or in interviews. Getting involved while on exchange shows employers that you can get out of your comfort zone, that you can take initiative, try new things, and that you did more than book flight tickets and spend boozy nights out at the local bars.
During my exchange in France, I decided to get involved with the Model United Nations (MUN) club at my school. Through this club, I was chosen to participate in the Harvard World MUN conference in Rome on the Economic and Financial Committee. I had the opportunity to spend a week in Rome, where we collaborated and negotiated with peers from across the world on contemporary world issues. In between debating. and spending time with our committee, we explored the beautiful alleys of Rome and ate all the gelato and pizza our stomachs could hold. I ALSO GOT TO STAND IN THE SAME ROOM AS THE POPE (life goal complete).
The best part of my extra-curricular experience on exchange has definitely been securing multiple internships since returning home, simply because I had this great experience to talk about. It really helped me to stand out, and my employers viewed my extra-curricular experience abroad as extremely positive.
Apart from all of the professional benefits, getting involved on exchange is also a great way to make life-long connections and to experience local culture. Participating in MUN abroad allowed me to make connections with people from across the world that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve still kept in contact with a lot of people I met that week and they’ve since been fantastic sources for hearing about opportunities abroad and within Canada. I also made a lot of friends with the French students on our MUN team, which meant I had more opportunities to practice my French and to experience the local culture during social events.
After having such an incredible exchange experience, upon returning to Mac I wanted to help contribute to improving the exchange experience for students arriving at McMaster. This past year I’ve been the President of the McMaster International and Exchange (M.I.X.) Club, which has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate degree. M.I.X. plans social events and activities throughout the year to allow incoming exchange students the opportunity to meet others while experiencing cool things here in Canada that they might not do at home. We also encourage students interested in studying abroad to come out to events, as it’s a great way to meet people from all across the world before you study abroad! Ultimately, getting involved with M.I.X. has been a great experience, not only because of the incredible friendships I’ve made but also because of how great of a speaking point it is on my resume.
My advice to those of you thinking of studying abroad is to get involved while on your exchange. Try out a new club that you wouldn’t have had the chance to at McMaster. Sign up for that local event you heard about on Facebook. Just get out there and try new things! The memories and friendships you will make, as well as the experience you can use on your resume, will be some of the most rewarding moments of your undergraduate career.
Cassie Simmons is a student in the Economics and Political Science program, Faculty of Social Science at McMaster University. She studied abroad for two terms, in 2015 – 2016, at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Lille, in Lille, France.