This past year has been full of turmoil and uncertainty, as well as new opportunities. In my case, I was excited to attend the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle as a Corbett Scholar exchange student for the 2020-21 school year. These plans changed when all in-person activities were cancelled due to COVID-19. Despite this disappointment, my exchange was fortunately scheduled to carry on as a virtual exchange (thanks to the Corbetts, the Canadian Studies Center, and Marion for making this happen!).
I was relieved to hear that I could still participate, but I did have some reservations. A virtual exchange — what would that look like? How could it compare to living, studying, and being in Seattle?
To my pleasant surprise, I quickly discovered the potential of this new format after starting in January. While a virtual exchange is certainly different, it also has distinct advantages that can help create a wonderful experience. Here’s a list of the top three things I’ve gained from this virtual exchange:
1. Access to diverse experts across the Pacific Northwest 🗺
Who says learning has to happen in-person? OK… me, in the pre-pandemic days! This virtual exchange has quickly taught me otherwise.
Through monthly workshops on Zoom, the exchange students and I have had the opportunity to engage with notable experts in an extremely personal setting. Over four months (and from the comfort of my home), I’ve gained in-depth knowledge of economic, political, environmental, and Indigenous issues unique to the Pacific Northwest. It’s been exciting to learn from professionals located far and wide across the region, who would’ve otherwise been difficult to access in a traditional in-person exchange.
This fact was made especially clear to me in our most recent workshop with Patrick Lozar from the University of Victoria (UVic). As a Vancouver local, I have a primarily Vancouver-perspective when thinking of the Canada-US relationship within the Pacific Northwest. I also would’ve gained stronger insights on the Seattle-perspective if my in-person exchange to UW had occurred. In this situation however, I likely wouldn’t have considered insights from Victoria-based experts — which definitely would’ve been my loss! In the workshop with Patrick, I realized how much knowledge I was missing out on by not considering diverse figures outside of my existing networks.
2. Deeper connection to home 🌆
As a fourth-year student at the University of British Columbia (UBC), I thought I had a strong relationship with my campus. But after years of rushing from building to building with only the next assignment, project, and exam on my mind, I lost the feeling of wonder I had when I first stepped on campus. I forgot how beautiful my surroundings were somewhere along the way.
I recently rediscovered my connection to campus through a project for this program. The other students and I have been creating city tour vlogs to showcase our homes to each other. While keeping a tourist’s perspective in mind, I excitedly created a video tour of my favourite spots at UBC. This project inspired me to explore my familiar environment with revitalized intention and curiosity. With this traveller’s mindset, I was shocked to find that the same campus I had always been on could feel so different and fresh. This mentality has given me a deeper appreciation for campus, as well as the rest of the city.
I’ve also gained a more nuanced understanding of Vancouver, further adding to my appreciation of the city. The traditional, ancestral, and unceded lands of the Coast Salish peoples that I live on are integrated within the Salish Sea, a 100,000+ square km bioregion encompassing the Seattle-Vancouver-Victoria megaregion. It humbles me to know that I am one person living in a much greater, interconnected ecosystem.
3. Network of friends across the Pacific Northwest 💚
In these isolating times, it’s been wonderful to be able to connect with inspiring peers like the exchange students.
This year’s cohort of Corbett Scholars includes a diverse group of students from UBC, UVic, and UW, ranging in academic backgrounds from marketing (that’s me!) to math (kudos to Sasha — I could never!). I’ve had the most spirited discussions in everything from the differences in urban design across the US and Canada, to the best craft beer in Victoria (which I’m told is Fat Tug, no question). I know firsthand how challenging it can be to connect with strangers in a virtual space, but our shared appreciation for the Pacific Northwest makes it easy.
It’s incredible what happens when a group of passionate, openminded people come together to “travel”. No physical border (or ocean) can stop that!
This virtual exchange has been an eye-opening, transformative experience. I’m excited to integrate the new perspectives I’ve gained into the way I study, work, and live in the world. I’m excited to continue strengthening my relationship to Vancouver. And I’m most excited to visit my new friends in Seattle and Victoria when it’s safe to do so! At the end of the day, exchange is not about the destination but the journey (cheesy, but 100% true).
To future Corbett Scholars (and all exchange students), I hope you experience an amazing in-person exchange in your respective cities. But if your program ends up being virtual, I hope this post reassures you that you can have an equally fulfilling experience in this format. Best wishes on your exchange!
The Corbett British Columbia-Washington International Exchange Program Fund provides an opportunity for undergraduate students at the University of Washington to spend two semesters at the University of British Columbia or University of Victoria; and for students from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria to spend three quarters at the University of Washington.