Abroad(er) Perspective

Abroad(er) Perspective

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International exchange programs can be found at many universities and colleges across Canada and allow students the opportunity to widen their global horizons.

“Students always tell us [the exchange] was the best experience of their lives” Rebecca Denby, International Exchange Coordinator for Western said.  “It opens doors they never imagined possible, it really expands their realities”, she continued.

International exchange is a unique educational program; its primary goal is not to enrich a student’s academic portfolio, but rather to enrich their lives.

Many potential participants are scared off by the costs associated with international exchange. However, the amount of funding available to assist exchange students is staggering. Scholarships, awards and bursaries are available from your post-secondary institution, host universities as well as the Canadian government.

“Its such a phenomenal program, we really want it to be accessible to everyone” Denby commented.  In the 2009/2010 school year 49% of participating students at the University of Western Ontario received one or more scholarships to support their exchange.

“In most cases students pay Canadian tuition fees so it’s more affordable than you would think, it’s exactly what they would pay here. The only difference is the cost of flight and living, which can even be cheaper than Canada depending on the country,” Rebecca continued.

Although there are academic resources available at your post-secondary institution and at host universities, the experience forces participants to become self-reliant. With family far away students become responsible for their own wellbeing.

“You have to get yourself where you need to be” Tania Batista, third year Engineering student studying at the University of Freiberg, Germany said.  She was stuck in Iceland after the volcanic eruption shut down transportation to the continent.

“We were scared about what the cloud of ash was going to do. We needed to get back to Germany but hardly anything was flying out and everything else was booked, we could have waited but we’d have missed a week of school and spent a ton of money so we decided to wing it…I was so stressed I almost puked” she said.

Tania was able to get back to Germany in large part due to the kindness of strangers willing to transport them from one city to another.

When asked about the dangers of hitchhiking Tania responded, “I wasn’t scared at all, actually one of my favorite moments in Europe was hitchhiking through turkey with a couple of friends.  A garbage truck picked us up; the driver didn’t speak a word of English. We hitchhiked for nearly 300 kilometers!”

With so much travel and life experience it is easy to slack off on academic responsibilities abroad. Many international exchange offices are taking into consideration the fact that some participant’s grades might suffer as a result of the exchange and are implementing a pass/fail system to cope with this reality.

“The pass/fail system will be applied to every student going on exchange from 2010 onward, this new system certainly gives students an advantage” Rebecca commented.

“However, students must to remember that while Canadian universities have pass or fail comments, grad schools and most scholarships will want to see transcripts from host universities which will show a percentage grade” she continued.

While the educational experience is in itself a fantastic experience, most students agreed the travel was the best part of the program.  “I went on exchange to travel, and it was one of the best experience of my life, I’d definitely recommend it…I know its kind of cliché but I feel this experience has turned me into more of a man” Evan said.   Tania agreed saying, “There was no anxiety at all when I got there but I’m devastated about coming home, this whole thing has just been wonderful from the beginning”.

When asked the most important thing they’d learned on exchange Krista Burns, third year International Relations student studying at the University of Norwich, England summed it up by quoting author Mark Twain, “Don’t let school get in the way of your education”.

-Monica Blaylock

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