CTR Home Internal  Relations and Communications Home About CTR Publication Schedule CTR Archives

October 24, 2002 Letter from Columbia: Exchange student



Ryan Rowe, on the road again.

Ryan Rowe is a Concordia business student currently studying in Cartagena, Colombia. He sent us this article by e-mail.

I am the first exchange student that this university has ever had, and I would like to tell people in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere, that Colombia is a safe place to visit, work, and study.

Before leaving, I was warned by many people that Colombia was a very dangerous country, that I was crazy to go there, and that I should pick another country to study in, but I have felt as safe here as I have in any other Latin American country I have visited (Mexico, Brazil, Nicaragua, etc.).

Cartagena and the entire Caribbean coast are left virtually untouched by guerrilla warfare, and even the big cities are safer than most people think. In fact, it is generally the countryside that the guerrillas roam, and with any degree of common sense, a foreign student can have an incredible learning experience here in Cartagena, or any part of this country.

I would particularly like to reach Concordia students to tell them about Cartagena, and especially about my school, Universidad Tecnologica de Bolivar (CUTB), which is very modern, professional, and well equipped.
You won’t be completely isolated when you come here. Many speak English, and there are even a few at my university that speak French. The International Center at CUTB hires canucks, gringos, kangaroos and Brits to teach English if you want to make some money on the side.

The International Exchange program at Concordia University is very well organized, and any student willing to meet the requirements and undergo the process of submitting an application to study abroad can do it very easily.

You’re probably wondering how much money I needed to do this. Did you know that the Quebec ministry of education will actually give you money to study abroad? They are supplying me with $750 a month to cover all of my costs.

Remember that Colombia is a developing country, and you can easily get by on this monthly amount and still have a bit left over. It will cover everything: a furnished apartment, your groceries, transportation costs, and other minor expenses. Quebec will give you $1,000 a month if you’re heading to Europe. There is also no barrier to getting a student loan (you are still considered to be studying full-time in a Quebec institution).

The application process to get involved with the exchange program is a lengthy one, so don’t be shocked. First, you need to meet the GPA requirements for your program and have at least 24 credits completed of your degree.

Then I had to pick three schools (in order of preference), research their course plans and select courses which were transferrable for credit to my degree at Concordia. My actual letter of application to each school had to be in the language of study (Spanish) and I had to pass an online test from the Department of Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics to demonstrate my proficiency in the language.

I also needed to procure two letters of reference (teachers and/or employers), and I had to show adequate financial resources to support myself (this needs to be certified). For the MEQ bursary, I had to write a letter explaining what my reason was for choosing the exchange program and what I intended to do with the money.

It took me about five days of 24 hours to complete my application (it involved a lot of legwork and long hours on the telephone and at the computer).

After CUTB finally approved me, I had to co-ordinate communication between them, Concordia, and the Colombian consulate in Montreal via fax and telephone so that I could obtain a foreign student visa. It was a bureaucratic process, as they all are, but in the end I finally got it (with a little help from a sweet Colombian girl I know).

Being involved in the exchange program is a rich and rewarding experience, and I highly recommend it to everyone. Pick your country and your school for the right reasons, and make the most of the culture while you’re there. I guarantee it will be truly beneficial in the long run.

In the past few months, I have been using a Web site to to educate people about the other countries in Central America, as well as Mexico. I plan to do the same thing with Colombia during my five-month sojourn abroad.

A postscript from Frederick Francis, Deputy Director of Concordia’s Centre for Internation-al Academic Co-operation:

The International/Student Exchange Programs (I/SEP) are wonderful opportunities for Concordia students. While all faculties and schools at Concordia actively promote these opportunities for students, we are also aware of the potential risks.

With this in mind, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) regularly issues travel advisories of those countries where there is a potential of greater risk. Colombia is one of those countries. We are very pleased that Ryan Rowe has had an “uneventful” sojourn, but would caution him and other students that we take the DFAIT advisories very seriously.

Web sites suggested by Ryan Rowe: