Exchange experience proves life changing for Amy

Amy Hicks (at left in our feature image) is a fourth-year Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and Bachelor of Criminology student who called Canada home for a semester last year as part of La Trobe’s semester exchange program. Here she reflects on her amazing experiences:

I have always loved travel; I have been very lucky to have been able to travel around the world in my lifetime. The chance to immerse myself in another culture and live in another country while studying appealed to me greatly, as I have a keen interest in international politics and my passion in Law is mainly focused on social justice on a global scale.

My dad went on exchange to a small town in central Illinois when he was in high school. We remained close with the host family and still consider them to be our family 40 years later. I wanted to develop meaningful connections like this.

Ottawa, Ontario as the capital of Canada has an incredibly interesting history. The city, though small, is a pillar of Canada as a country. From Parliament Hill to Rideau Canal, the city has a beautiful landscape. It is a mere 20-minute drive from Quebec where you can embark on stunning nature hikes and skiing in the winter.

Carleton University is a 20-minute bus ride from downtown. The university is very big and has all you need. Campus life is bustling with many cafes, bars, and beautiful areas to sit and study or hang out. Alex, the other La Trobe Exchange student and I became frequents at the campus bars as we played heated games of Monopoly.

Amy, right, enjoys a hike with friends at Gatineau Park

As the winter approached, I became very familiar with the impressive tunnels that ran underneath Carleton, you really do not need to go outside. One of my friends informed me this is accurate as they realised after three weeks of using the tunnels they had not actually been outside once.

My integration to life in Canada was luckily quite seamless. Initially, I ran into a couple of issues as border security forgot to give me my visa, resulting in me needing to go back to the airport and beg them to print me a visa. Homesickness did set in after I became more comfortable and settled in Ottawa.

Thankfully, I was surrounded by a group of fantastic friends who made the homesick days a lot easier by inviting me to a frisbee Friday, or my roommates who sat on my bed for a chat about home. There were waves of homesickness that hit throughout the entirety of my time away, however, Ottawa became home to me, and I took comfort in the space and people around me. I was also lucky enough to share the exchange with another La Trobe student, and we were able to enjoy many of these experiences together and provide each other with a reminder of home.

It is incredibly difficult to highlight my favourite experiences in Canada. I was lucky enough to do a lot of travelling in my time away.


  • Travelling around the US; Disneyworld, Miami (50 Cent concert and Miami Beach), Chicago, time with my family in Central Illinois, San Francisco (Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz)
  • Travelling around Canada; Niagara Falls, Churchill Manitoba (Polar Bears), Winnipeg Manitoba, Toronto, Vancouver, Skiing and dogsledding in Quebec, Montreal
  • Mexico; Cancun (Chichen Itza, Cenote, Isla Mujeres, building sandcastles on the beach)

Out of all the fantastic travels experiences I had, the most significant truly was the people I met. We exchanged stories about our upbringings, and I snuck in some myths about the vicious Australian drop bears.

A polar bear from a polar bear safari in Churchill, Manitoba

Having the opportunity to study in Canada has been an invaluable experience, each of my classes offered a perspective on my degree that I had not previously considered. I took a class about the Philosophy of Law, this particularly stood out to me as the professor offered insight in the history of law and challenged our existing views on law and legal systems globally.

My professor, born in Malaysia and working in Canada had studied in Australia and offered interesting comparisons between the Australian and Canadian legal systems and how the Philosophy of Law had presented itself differently in these systems. I was exposed to a different way of learning and different perspectives on topics I have already studied in Melbourne.

The best part of my exchange experience was undoubtedly the people I met. Within the first three days of living on campus I met people I knew would become lifelong friends.

To build these friendships the best thing to do is just talk to people – your roommates on residence, people in your classes, anyone. The initial few weeks of the semester are tough for everyone, exchange student or not, and a lot of people are looking for a friend. Putting yourself out there is the best way to build relationships.

You will learn invaluable lessons, have unmatched experiences and meet people who will change your life.

This exchange reinforced my love for my degree and solidified my desires to pursue a career in law where I can travel and work. I discovered there is always more to learn. My biggest piece of advice for anyone considering an exchange is simple; do it. It has been the most rewarding and impactful experience of my life thus far.

You will miss home and home will miss you however, the people you love will still love you when you get back and if anything, it will reinforce your relationships with people from home. You will learn invaluable lessons, have unmatched experiences and meet people who will change your life.

Embrace the challenges

Packing and preparing for exchange can be overwhelming. Coming to terms with the fact you can only take a 30-kilogram suitcase for six months away is a challenge (particularly for a serial over-packer such as myself) but you will come to learn that you are able to handle any challenge thrown your way when you are put in that situation.

Don’t dwell on the small challenges, make the most of the experience by getting involved in the university activities and clubs. Spend time exploring the city however you can. The experience goes by in the blink of an eye, make the most of it while you can.

It is a struggle to put into words just how impactful my exchange has been on my life. The people I met, the experiences I had, and the lessons I learned will influence me for the rest of my life. From speaking to previous exchange students, I knew I would have a lot of fun on my exchange, but I was not prepared for just how much of an impact it would have on my life.

Find out more:

Interested in seeing where an exchange program can take you? Visit Overseas short programs and Semester exchange for more information.

Amy received a $2000 Learning Abroad mobility grant which is available for all semester exchange participants.