Making a home away from home

This semester, more than 250 exchange students chose to travel to the University of Waterloo to study and explore. They decided to leave the familiar in search of new educational and cultural experiences. Jessie Lee is one of those students. She is an economics and business student fascinated with studying in another country. In honour of International Education Week, we talked to her about her experiences at Waterloo and learned some of the differences between the campuses. 

Jessie chose to come to Canada to improve her language skills and immerse herself in different cultures. She also stated, "You have really amazing computer science courses and I was curious. I heard Waterloo was innovative and I wanted to see something I wasn’t used to at my own school."

Jessie Lee.Jessie is originally from Taiwan, so moving to Vietnam to go to school at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) was already a huge step for her. Her impulse to explore, and her curiosity about various courses that aren’t available at her home institution, encouraged Jessie to set her sights on Canada.

With her two suitcases in hand and a 14-hour flight ahead of her, she said goodbye to RMIT and hello to Waterloo! 

Thinking about the differences between campuses, Jessie shared that RMIT is, “fairly small and only offers engineering, business, and design [programs]. But at Waterloo, there are multiple classes with a variety of little things you can take.”

The class schedules are different, but she adapted quickly. Jessie said, “My classes in Vietnam were only on one day. This was because they knew people tended to live far away, so they accommodated for that. Whereas Waterloo has shorter class times because they are on multiple days.”

Two people in a classroom writing notes, one using in laptop and one writing in a notebook.In the classroom, Jessie also found some significant differences.

"There is more individualism. I find students are more focused on their work. It was really interesting to see because back in Vietnam, we sit around a table and discuss the course with our professor."

Outside the classroom, Jessie is amazed by the size and the spacious design of the Waterloo campus. Though at times she still finds it hard to navigate her way around, both inside and outside of the classroom. Jessie notes that one struggle she faces is breaking through the language barrier. 

 “I was never the best at English,” she says. “Daily conversation is fine, but when it came to class discussion, it was challenging for me to participate. Sometimes I needed to organize my thoughts before I raised my hand.”

However, Jessie continues to take English courses and carry on her passion for debate by joining the UW Debate Society here on campus. As she grew more familiar with the space around her and scoured campus for study spots, she discovered a place to call her own.

Photo of Dana Porter library.Recalling the library at her home campus, which has two floors, Jessie loves that Waterloo features different libraries in locations all across campus. As an admirer of novels and poetry, she really enjoys the setting on campus.

Jessie also appreciates the diverse student culture and multiculturalism the campus represents.

“I also really like the clubs and the student body is pretty diverse, so I get to learn about different cultures.”

Despite the obstacles she faced in order to come on exchange, Jessie is loving every part of her experience. As of November, her third month on campus, she hasn’t even felt homesick yet!

For those who are considering going on exchange, Jessie has some advice to draw on from her own exchange experience now.

The best thing you can do is reach out to people to make friends. People want to know you, but they don’t always go out of their way to do so. But if you take this step, you can meet a lot of really great people!


Jessie was able to step out of her comfort zone and immerse herself in Canada completely. Living and studying at Waterloo for a few months showed her that there are countless possibilities in her future. It also gave her an appreciation for varied educational experiences at Waterloo and RMIT, enhancing her education. She was happy to know that she can call Taiwan, Vietnam, and now Canada, her home.

Like Jessie, there are many exchange students visiting the University of Waterloo from all around the world. You can see how they captured their experiences in Canada on camera in the Exchange Photo Contest 2018. There were one hundred submissions sent in, but they have been narrowed down to the top eight. Now it’s your turn to vote for your favourite(s) on the @UWaterloolife Instagram until November 16.

If Jessie's story inspired you to go abroad, check out our Go Abroad page for more information on how you can internationalize your degree. 

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