Have you ever considered changing up your grad life routine for a year? How about moving somewhere you’ve never been, where people speak a language you’re not entirely comfortable speaking, and somewhere you don’t know anyone? If you see a graduate exchange from that perspective, it might be difficult to say yes to any of those questions. But let’s try to see this from another point a view…
Have you ever considered moving to a place where everything is new and exciting? Where you can explore, and meet people from cultural backgrounds very different from yours, and have the opportunity to improve your language skills? How about learning about yourself? Your ability to adapt, and grow personally and professionally? Well, now this makes it easier to say yes, doesn’t it? However, when you consider an international exchange, the truth is, you are going to experience amazing times, but you will also have difficult moments. The idea is to do your best to enjoy the positive aspects and at the same time to prepare yourself to handle the not-so-great situations.
I’m a graduate student from Campinas, Brazil
Hi! My name is Conrado, and I’m a Ph.D. student from Brazil. I do research in biochemistry on proteins called molecular chaperones. In Brazil, I live in Campinas, a small city (not so small though!) in the state of São Paulo. I decided to say yes to some of the questions above, because I wanted to experience living abroad, acquire international research experience, improve my English skills and meet people from different parts of the world. So, I decided to move to Montreal with my two dogs, and do an exchange at McGill.
This week will mark one year since I arrived from Brazil to Montreal. So, I think there is no better moment than now to share my experiences during my time here. I’d like to bring to this post some positive and negative aspects of my experience here. Enjoy!
I experienced many professional and personal positives
First things first; let’s start by talking about the professional side. It might sound obvious, but McGill is a reputable university and having the opportunity to do research here is really a privilege. Here, I learned with the best scientists and the infra-structure offered was enviable. I’ve been able to do work here in one year that I haven’t in my three years of my Ph.D. in Brazil! It was the first time I had a project that I’m very involved with and that teaches me so much. I have to thank Professor Dr. Jason C. Young from the department of Biochemistry for the chance of working with his group and also all of the lab members for being so welcoming, kind, and helpful.
Another professional aspect of the exchange was to improve my language skills and to broaden my world views. I chose Canada and, especially Montreal, because of the bilingualism and multiculturalism of the city. It was perfect, because I was able to improve my English and French language skills and be in touch with people from different backgrounds. So, when you are looking for a university for an exchange, remember to consider other things you could benefit from. Not only the university but also the city where it belongs.
Of course, work is very important, but the exchange experience is much more than that. It’s very important to separate your personal and professional life, especially in grad school where things seem to be so mixed. So, if your project isn’t going so well or even if it is, remember you still have a life and there is a lot to explore outside of those lab doors. Don’t forget to visit museums, go to parks, concerts, festivals, and enjoy the weather (when it’s possible). Just be ready to explore and discover as much as you can. And for me Montreal was, because it has so much to offer in terms of festivals and activities!
Not everything was always a bed of roses
When you move to a different country, simple things can quickly become very difficult at the beginning. From getting a visa or finding a new place to live to simple things like taking a bus, doing groceries or even ordering food at Tim Hortons; everything was different and I needed to get used to all of that. I also found it difficult to express myself, to make jokes, and to understand people speaking in a different language. Sometimes I felt very let down, because the process of adaptation was exhausting and frustrating. What I learned was that it was just a process and you can make it through. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and give it time. Before you know it, suddenly you’re going to realize that what was difficult before is now just part of your normal routine!
Missing family and friends seems cliché when we talk about moving. I always thought that it would be easy for me since I haven’t lived in my parents’ place for almost a decade now. But cliché or not, I missed my family and friends. The internet makes it easier to keep in touch, however, it seems you’ve moved to a virtual world where you still do have contact with the people you left behind, but through a screen. While you’re away, their life continues to go on; things are still happening with them. So don’t be surprised if some friend forgets you with time, after all you don’t have daily contact anymore. Also, your friends might get married, your nephew will be born, beloved ones might pass way, and all you can do is just watch and feel everything from afar; through a screen. That’s why my suggestion is to try to stay in touch with loved ones back home, but to also make new contacts, new friends, and find new things that interest you. Because, although you might be missing out on some things, you can compensate by being present and making the most out of your time here.
A few ending words
To end, I’d like to say that I had a great time in Canada and all the things I lived and learned here will be with me forever. An exchange experience is amazing and I think if you have the opportunity to have one, you should take it, and use it to grow professionally and personally like I did. Don’t let your insecurities stop you! If you’re thinking about coming to McGill as an exchange student, go for it and enjoy it as much as you can! And if you’re already a McGill graduate student, first be proud but mostly be grateful. Make the most out of this opportunity, because a lot of people would love to have the same.
Lastly… have you ever considered living outside of Canada for a year? Think about it. It could be interesting!
Conrado de C. Gonçalves is guest blogger for GradLife McGill. He is Ph.D. candidate in Functional and Molecular Biology at University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in Brazil. His research interests are in biochemistry and protein studies. He came to McGill as an international exchange student to work in the lab of Dr. Jason C. Young for a project related to the disaggregation activity of human chaperones. During his free time, Conrado enjoys walking with his dogs at parks, visiting museums, dining at restaurants and doing activities in the city.
Banner is by Conrado de C. Gonçalves. Profile photo is Yogita Patel.