Nicola O'Brien ice skating in Ottawa. Nicola spent her Macquarie exchange at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.
Nicola O'Brien ice skating in Ottawa. Nicola spent her Macquarie exchange at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

Macquarie exchange life changing for Nicola

Bachelor of Arts with Bachelor of Laws student Nicola O’Brien spent a semester at Carleton University, Ottawa on a Macquarie exchange. She says the biggest challenge was coming home.

“My Macquarie exchange to Carleton University in Canada began with trepidation and fear. Would I make friends? Will I be homesick? Would my life be dramatically different when I returned?

However, as the saying goes, the biggest risks come with the biggest rewards, and I can say that the risk of exchange gave me the biggest rewards.

In Ottawa I studied international human rights, international organisations, law in the information society and crime; and law, process and politics. Not only will these studies on exchange help me in my future career, I now have a goal to study a Masters of Law, focusing on sports law, at the University of Toronto, Canada, with the aim of working in a law firm in Canada.

Many people ask, ‘What was the best thing about Canada?’ Without hesitation I say, ‘the people’. The lifelong friendships that I have made and the lessons that my new friends have taught me are invaluable. Everyone has a different story and no one has a right to judge anyone; that what you put into something is what you get out of it; and they taught me that laughter and happiness are the most important things in life.

Aside from the people, living on campus was a phenomenal experience with many nights out, movie nights, family dinners and extremely competitive games nights.

Canada itself is a wonderful country. Ottawa was a base from which I travelled to various surrounding cities and countries. My travels included Montreal, Quebec City, skiing Mont Tremblant, Niagara Falls, Toronto, Chicago and Los Angeles.

But Ottawa is a beautiful city with so much to do. There were nights out in the ByWard Market, eating Beaver Tails (the pastry not beaver kind), maple syrup and poutine – French fries covered in gravy and cheese. I also toured parliament, visited the Canadian Museum of History, went to regular ice hockey games, the Winterlude festival, and had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of skating on the world’s largest outdoor skate rink – the Rideau Canal Skateway.

Whilst there aren’t too many cultural differences, Canadians are definitely more friendly, a little less loud than Australians and extremely polite – they hold doors open for people who are miles away.

The experience changed me. I’ve become more aware that everyone has a story and to be more empathetic. The experience has also opened my eyes to more travel and to learning.

The hardest challenge I faced on exchange was saying goodbye to the wonderful friends I made, and to leave Canada where I had become fully immersed in the culture and lifestyle. I am counting down the days ‘til I return. Until then, two of my friends are visiting later in the year, and my best friend is looking to do an exchange to Macquarie University in 2015.”


International students can undertake exchange at Macquarie University, Sydney, via Study Abroad. Macquarie partners with over 100 universities worldwide in Study Abroad programs.