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My Challenging Exchange Experience

Written by QCMHA Speakers Coordinator Jeffrey Hugessen

Truthfully, I’m not exactly sure what the purpose of this blog is. If nothing else, I’m

hoping it can be a cathartic exercise for me, reflecting on a challenging couple of months. There isn’t precisely a thru-line or a theme to this post, but I think if I was going to give a couple of main messages, it’s that recruiting sucks. It’s a confidence-destroying process that messed up my perception of myself and affected my mental health, and more than anything, I hope that everyone going through it right now is doing ok. I think the other thing I would say is that mental health issues can not only arise but be particularly crippling in times when it’s expected that you’d be doing well. I’ve been in Norway since August 23rd, supposed to be having the best months of my life, and it’s been one of the most challenging semesters I’ve ever had. I’m incredibly fortunate to say that I am on the other side of these issues now, but for anyone going through recruiting or just struggling in general, hang in there, and I hope my story and or suggestions help a little.

For me, the ability to do an exchange term at Queen’s was one of the focal reasons I picked the Commerce program. It’s consistently touted as the highlight of a student’s academic career, and it’s something that I have been looking forward to throughout my time at Queen’s. However, from the moment I arrived in Bergen to study at the Norwegian School of Economics, I encountered challenges that tested my mental health.

Starting with my arrival in Norway, things were difficult. Despite being fully vaccinated, I had to complete an 8-day quarantine as Norway did not accept Canadian proof of Vaccination. During my quarantine period, I missed the better part of my first two weeks of classes and the best weather in Bergen (a notoriously rainy city). This was a particularly tough period, as I watched my peers travel Europe while I was confined to my room. However, soon enough, I was out of quarantine and faced with my next challenge: catching up on two weeks of school, making friends in a foreign country and recruiting for full-time work. Luckily, the first two challenges were easy enough to tackle; however, the recruiting process tested me over the following months.

From late August to November, recruiting was essentially a part-time job. All other priorities were pushed aside, as every day, I spent hours devoted to refining my resume and cover letter, coffee chatting with company reps and preparing my behavioural and case interviews. Throughout October, I made it to the final round of five interview processes, highlighted by an interview process involving 10 hours of case and behavioural interviews. However, at the start of November, I had been turned down by each of the five companies and was at a near breaking point. I had put my school commitments to the side and prevented myself from travelling to focus on getting a job and had absolutely nothing to show for it. Coinciding with failures, the days had become shorter, and in October, it rained 28/31 days in Bergen.

With two months of exchange sunk and no progress made on my job search, I had been following all of my friends as they travelled around Europe while I was spending entire days in my room. The four months I had been looking forward to all of my undergrad were becoming some of the most challenging months I had faced from a mental health perspective. I was constantly anxious. I struggled to sleep; I suffered from occasional panic attacks and was generally unhappy as I received rejection after rejection. As I’m sure everyone can understand, recruiting can be an utterly painful process. A process that leaves you feeling inadequate at every turn. Fortunately, I’ve reached the end of the recruiting process, having signed a full-time offer at Bell and turned the corner from a mental health perspective. I've started to make the most of my exchange experience, getting to see friends and places and Europe I had dreamed about seeing for years. I’m so grateful to be on the other side of those difficult months, but I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of the things that I learned along the way.

Firstly, double down on your positive habits. I’ve made going to the gym a routine, and on days that were consistently challenging or disappointing, being physically active was something I looked forward to. Getting in shape was something tangible that I got to be proud of amid all my rejection. I’ve also started journaling daily again, a habit that I had largely given up on during the summer. I would encourage anyone to try journaling. It is a superpower. Secondly, rely on those around you. At my lowest moments of exchange, I called my family practically every day and relied on my friends to help me get through the challenging times. Even just having a casual conversation changed the course of my day. Thirdly, push yourself hard but understand there are diminishing returns. For most of exchange, I worked my ass off. I would practice cases over and over and keep running through my behavioural questions to make sure I had them down. In retrospect, I’m glad I put the work in, but there were many times I was burning out and sleep or rest would have been more valuable than practice. Lastly, try to live your life while recruiting. My biggest regret of exchange so far is spending the first two months of my time mainly in my room. Put the time and effort in, but don’t let it monopolize your time.

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