March 28, 2024

Are you a UBC undergrad thinking about going on a student exchange? It can be a daunting decision. You might wonder, what's it like spending a year or a semester in another country? How can you prepare? And how do you handle it when things go sideways? We talked with a group of UBC Global Ambassadors who studied abroad with a Go Global program. They spoke with us candidly, sharing their personal impressions, fears and misgivings, best memories, top tips and advice. (This is story #1 in a series of five Global Exchange Insider interviews.) 

Meet Imogen Crawford, a 21 year old from North Vancouver, BC. She is a 4th-year UBC undergraduate student in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems' Applied Animal Biology program. 

Before you go

Why did you pick St Andrews? How did you hear about it? 

I chose to study at the University of St Andrews for a number of reasons. I had always wanted to live in Europe, I have family in Scotland, and my dad went to St Andrews during his own undergrad and had an amazing experience. It was the perfect choice to connect with my roots while getting to know a country I love even better. Also, St Andrews was a new partnership for UBC, so I was the first UBC student to go on exchange there. St Andrews is known as the "home of golf" and also happens to be where Prince William and Kate first met! 

My roommate and I in the iconic St Andrews red gowns, worn by students for special events and at graduation, in St Salvator's Quad, one of the oldest parts of the university (photo: Imogen Crawford)

What was the application process like? Any tips? 

Fairly straightforward—both on the UBC end and through St Andrews. The most time-consuming part of the Go Global application was picking my top three choices—a difficult task when there were so many amazing options available. I also found the proposed course selection to be challenging because I thought the classes I picked had to be what I would take on exchange. While it is important to ensure there are courses suited to you at your partner university, beyond that, it is not until actual course registration that you have to make official course selections, so don’t overthink this part. As for St Andrews, because I had already been accepted by UBC, it was really just a formality to complete their inbound study abroad application—so again, not worth stressing over! 

How did you prepare? Anything to be aware of? (Travel, cultural differences, classes, etc.) 

Because my family is Scottish and I had visited Scotland prior to my exchange, I already felt fairly knowledgeable regarding the cultural differences. That being said, there are definitely differences that only emerge when you are fully immersed in life in another country. For me, there were two ways to "prepare" for these differences. First, do your research. This can be done by reading books or watching movies set in the place, or by finding people either from your personal life, whom you can directly ask, or even from social media, whom you can observe and learn from. The other thing I would suggest is to be open to surprises. There is only so much you can anticipate in advance; learning new things is part of what makes the experience so exciting and rewarding.

St Salvator's Hall, or better known as Prince Will and Princess Kate's residence (photo: Imogen Crawford)

What worries did you have beforehand? How did you overcome the anxiety?

Seeing as my exchange was the longest I had ever spent away from home, I worried I would be overcome with homesickness that would hinder my experience. Taking plenty of time to mentally prepare for my exchange helped calm my nerves. I got excited for all the opportunities to come, so I could approach the exchange with hopeful anticipation rather than crippling anxiety. Of course, there were moments throughout the year when I missed home. But regular communication with family and friends helped me feel connected to them despite the timezone and distance between us. It's important to remember that though you may miss elements of home, your exchange doesn't last forever. So make the most of the experience by being present and fully immersing yourself in your environment because time passes you by faster than you realize. Seriously, a school year never felt so short! My other concern was being able to feel at home in my new environment. I overcame this by identifying what makes me feel the most comfortable and content. For me, it's the people in my life. So the advice I'd give is to get out of your comfort zone: put yourself in situations where you can meet and really get to know new people; whether that's through orientation events, club meetings, classes or even your own roommates (I got very lucky there). No doubt you, too, will find people who make you feel at home no matter where you are.

The Fairy Pools on a road trip to the Isle of Skye (photo: Imogen Crawford)

During the experience

How was the overall experience? What did you learn? 

My time at St Andrews was one of the best years of my life. At the time of my exchange, I was in a place where I was craving change, so I welcomed the experience with open arms. This was an essential element of my success abroad. The town of St Andrews is so special in that it is really small, with a strong sense of community. It is a beautiful place, with endless beaches, old stone buildings, cozy cafés and pubs, tiny cobbled streets and a world-famous golf course (although I am not a golfer myself). I instantly felt at home. My housing situation also contributed to my success. I lived in a shared flat with four others, two of whom became my closest friends, which made the experience extra special.

Knowing that I can move to another continent on my own and flourish is something I will take with me throughout life."

If you could change something or do it differently, what would you change or do? 

One thing I would do differently is get a job. Budgeting on exchange can be challenging because there are many costs that are hard to foresee, like spontaneous travel, day trips or events (balls, concerts, etc.). Also, because I was on exchange for the whole year, getting a job would have been very feasible and on top of the financial benefits, it could have opened up opportunities to do things or meet people to further enhance my experience.

The Old Union student coffee shop, one of my favourite study spots, on a snowy morning in December (photo: Imogen Crawford)

How were the academics? 

While the course structure was quite different than I was used to at UBC—with less emphasis on continuous assessment, but more readings and a higher grading weight placed on final—the change of pace really resonnated with me. Also, the classes were much smaller than I had ever experienced; this translated into getting to know my classmates better. It took some time to learn how the courses worked, what was expected of us and how I could best succeed. However, through trial-and-error and help from classmates, I was able to do well in my courses and I got a lot out of them through this process. 

How was the social aspect?

The small university-town life was quite different than I was used to. There are lots of pubs in St Andrews—a big part of the town’s social scene that I really enjoyed. There were also lots of societies (clubs) you could join. One of the societies I joined was the hill-walking club, where I got to go on some really cool hikes and see more of Scotland. Also, in one of my biology classes, we went on a weekend-long field course to a tiny island off the West coast of Scotland to study marine life. This was a highlight of my exchange because I got to see more of the country, experience hands-on learning in a small group setting and genuinely bond with my classmates. I also enjoyed travelling throughout the UK and Europe. I took day trips to Edinburgh, took the train down to London, went on a road trip to the Isle of Skye, and went farther afield to places like Italy, Sweden, Belgium and Greece.

*Photo #6*

Sunday Pier walk, where students gather every Sunday in their red gowns to walk down the infamous pier (photo: Imogen Crawford)

After the experience

Would you recommend this experience to others? What can they look forward to? 

Yes! Any student able to go on exchange should 100 percent do so if the degree allows it. Go for a full year to completely immerse yourself. You can look forward to discovering new places, cultures and experiences, and finding an independence you might never have thought possible.  

What was the impact on your academic and personal development? 

My exchange enabled major personal growth. In my academics, I discovered new ways of learning and was exposed to areas in my field of study that I hope to explore further after university. In my personal life, I made lifelong connections, had memorable experiences and most importantly, gained a new sense of independence. When reflecting back on my pre-exchange self, I have come really far. Knowing that I can move to another continent on my own and flourish is something I will take with me throughout life.

Sunrise swims on Castle Sands, the beach overlooked by the St Andrews Castle built before 1200 (photo: Imogen Crawford)

Read more Go Global student stories.


  • Issues of Global Relevance
  • Students as Global Citizens