I am French and I have to make a choice between two universities for an internship and I need advice. I can do a research internship as a visitor in Canada at the University of Toronto or at Royal Holloway London. The first stage would be to do research on a chemical benchmark and apply Monte Carlo methods, the second would be on the ML applied to chemistry.

I do not know which one to choose. I would like to be able to continue being a volunteer firefighter from time to time and to be able to make friends that I can keep and visit when I feel bad in my country. For those two things, I'm not sure Canada is the best idea.

The only thing that attracts me is that I have never lived on the American continent, and that I would like to be disoriented in a country that I do not know.

Maybe there will be new opportunities?

Can you help me ask the right questions?

  • I don't think there can be a factual answer on this forum. You might ask on academia if one of the universities is the better option for your field. – user16259 Mar 30 '18 at 18:54
  • Choose the one which provides the better research experience with respect to what you want to do in the future. Also make sure that both internships will pay you enough to live in the area. The last thing to consider would be the time and cost of getting a visa (you will most certainly need one in Canada). But the important thing here is the project and your future. – la femme cosmique Mar 31 '18 at 13:29

I suggest that you apply the Monte-Carlo method: flip a coin :-)

Joke aside, this question is less about expatriation and more about how to make complex life choices. Let me give some basic advice and focus on what will be relevant here.

  • Being able to come back in an emergency: they are about the same. Cost of travel between London and Paris is expensive if you don't buy it in advance. Time of travel is ~8h from Toronto, ~2h from Paris. Toronto is only slightly more expensive and inconvenient because you would normally take a red-eye flight and not sleep very well. But in both cases it's very feasible to come back for an emergency even on short notice.

  • Being able to come back on a regular basis: London is a clear winner if you really want or need to be able to come back to France once a month or more, for example. That would be very tiring and expensive to do from Toronto.

  • Staying in touch with close friends or maintaining a long-distance romantic relationship: Toronto is a real stretch. In London, if there's a friend that you hang out with a lot and they're in France, you can still spend long times with them on the phone, but the time difference makes this difficult in Toronto - one of you will always be sleeping or busy when the other is available. It's comparatively easier to stay in touch with family because they'll (hopefully) make time for you on weekends, but otherwise it's very hard to align schedules.

  • Standard of living. London is a lot more expensive than Toronto, for everything from food to transportation to housing. Look out for how much you'll be getting paid, how much you're ready to spend, and what kind of housing accommodation you'd be comfortable with.

  • Things to see and do. London is approximately 3x as large as Toronto in terms of the metro area population (14 million vs. 5 million). This means that London has a lot more things to do and see than Toronto, which can be good and also a bit overwhelming. (Paris: 12 million.)

  • In either case, it is unlikely that you will be able to be a volunteer firefighter. Neither London or Toronto seem to have much in the way of volunteer opportunities, the firefighting forces being professionals.

  • Making local friends: I'm going to guess that it is more likely for you to make local (Canadian) friends in Toronto, and more likely for you to make international friends in London (fellow expatriates from elsewhere than London). I base this on the experience of many of my expat friends in London, who after many years living there ended up striking only superficial friendships with their British colleagues, yet have made many deep friendships with people from around the world who also happened to live in London at the time. By comparison, I know many more people who spent time in North America and made local friends.

Now on the process to decide. The most important thing is that you first stop comparing the two opportunities — I can tell from your question that you keep comparing the two options. But before comparing them, figure out what is important to you first: pretend neither of the two opportunities existed for a minute, and ask yourself which are the most important questions for you: is the subject matter of the internship more important than the ability to come back and see family on weekends? What about the renown of the team? The personality of the host? The money (income and expense)? The professional opportunities? The tourism opportunities nearby?

Only when you know what truly matters to you should you start comparing the two opportunities, starting with the most important criteria first. If the thing that really matters most is that you really want to learn machine learning, no matter how small your living quarters might be, then go for London. If you value making local friendships in North America more, and the subject matter is only a secondary consideration, then go for Toronto. If you're not sure which opportunity is better from the point of view of a certain criterion, skip it and consider the next criterion.

And if, even after comparing them like this, the two opportunities end up being close enough, do flip a coin :) complete randomness is the optimal algorithm for ensuring the best outcome when facing a decision with completely equal expected outcomes either way...

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