Ever Thought About a Semester Abroad?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

  • this isn't your #52 bus

    this isn't your #52 bus

Written by Josh Dehaas

Last November when you were crowding onto the 52 bus at 8:20 in the morning after having missed two busses already, shivering in the cold with melted snow dripping down your chin, did you ever say to yourself "I'd rather be anywhere but here?" Well then - you should have applied for a semester abroad.

Last November while you sat in McLaughlin, I was out sunning myself on a beach in southern France or touring the Tate Modern gallery with an expert guide, Terry my art history prof. Sure I had papers to finish, but research just doesn't feel like research when you've got the British Library at your doorstep. And sure I had urban design papers to write, but papers just don't seem so daunting when you're asked to write about the elements of park design from a a lounge chair in Hyde Park. And while you were standing in line at the Albion that night talking to the same old friends, I was chatting up Victoria Beckham at the Notting Hill Arts Club, the neighbourhood hot spot. (At least I think it was her?)

If you've ever wanted an academic experience with a bit more excitement than Creelman Hall, you should consider a semester abroad - and consider it soon. Applications for fall '08 and winter '09 are due January 25th and you're required to attend an info session before you can apply.

While I spent my semester in London, there are hundreds of other cities where you can live, study and experience a different culture. And believe it or not, the financial burden of studying abroad is not nearly as prohibitive as one might think. My semester cost me about $2500 more than a semester in Guelph (extra rent, tube pass, and several flights included). And the transition to living in another city is made easier by the CIP as well as the fact that you'll probably find other students living close by who are just as far from home.

Studying abroad is an over-whelmingly exciting opportunity to learn by living and experiencing things for yourself. Living in London for four months has changed my perspective on Canadian culture and made me feel like a citizen of the world.

I sat down with Lynne Mitchell to discuss some of the different ways Guelph students can study abroad and some of the different challenges to studying overseas. Here's what she had to say:

What are the differences between exchanges, letters of permission and semesters abroad?

With semesters abroad and exchange you're paying Guelph tuition and you're getting courses, but semester abroad courses are usually Guelph courses taught by Guelph profs or local profs hired by Guelph. It's a little piece of Guelph moved somewhere else [as opposed to letters of permission or exchanges].

If you go on exchange you're taking another university's courses and the credits get transfered back to Guelph. But before you go, you get it all sorted out - what everything's going to count for. In both cases, you're paying tuition and some fees to the University of Guelph.

Letters of permission work well when there's no official Guelph program but you have a specific university in mind that you want to attend.

What are some of the benefits of study abroad?

It makes you a little bit different than everybody else in your graduating class. If you've taken some of your marine biology classes in Fiji or Scotland you're going to look different on paper than other students in your program.

Students also discover what they really like and what they really don't like about Canada. People who travel and live somewhere, spend time somewhere in a deeper way, often come home and are more politically active in Canada, because [they] get that sense of what's important to [them]. We know that people who do that type of thing are more likely to vote in the election, more likely to volunteer and more likely to get involved at home.

It might not be obvious to students right away, but I believe that later on, if you've travelled somewhere and lived somewhere and been an outsider and then you end up living in Canada, it probably makes you a better neighbour... I think it makes you a better Canadian citizen and truly a better global citizen. It makes you more sympathetic when you see someone in a situation here that you were in when you were trying to adapt to another culture. It all just makes the world a better place.

How much more does it cost to study abroad?

It depends on where you go and it depends on how you live. If you're a Kraft Dinner student here, you can probably be a Kraft Dinner student there. We generally say [it costs] one and a half to two times what it would be at Guelph. That includes accomodation, food and whatever else students spend money on. If you want to travel around, expect to pay more money. You're probably going to be doing more travel and exploration than you might if you were just hanging around Guelph.

Is there financial help available for those who are studying abroad?

There are more scholarships for study abroad now than ever. The Ontario government has put money into exchange scholarships in the past few years.

Where can you find more information about studying abroad?

The website's the best. Centre for International Programs If people come up to our office, we also have peer helpers who will answer questions and we hold info sessions and that sort of thing as well.

Do people ever come to you with horror stories about study abroad?

Every now and then a student gets killed over seas. The number one killer is traffic accidents. Any time someone is out of their element they're at a little bit higher risk. It's not that these countries are dangerous. It's that they're different. Our pre-departure orientations get people prepared for those differences. There are lots of way to protect yourself and our pre-departure orientations let students know what they should do to stay safe.

How can people overcome language barriers when studying in a country where English is not the every day language?

One [way] is to try and get the language before you go, whether by taking Guelph's courses or you can get involved in the chat program Campus Chat where, basically, you can get together with a bunch of people and exchange languages. If you know a language or you want to learn a language, you look for someone with a chat button.

Many of our partner universities also offer courses in English even when the general language of study is not English. For example, you can go to German and French institutions [and take English courses] and a lot of business schools overseas will teach in English. Sweden, for instance, if they only taught in Swedish, would not have international programs. And the best part is that the students pick up the local language, maybe not from studying it but because they're immersed in it every day.

What questions should students consider before they decide to apply to study abroad?

Are you going for the right reasons? Are you going for academics or for fun? If you're looking for a new academic experience in another country, study abroad is for you. If you want to just travel, then do that later on because the academics are challenging and you want to make sure that's your main reason for going.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Sometimes we run up against people who think study abroad is a frill for people who are extra-adventurous and have a lot of money, but the truth is that it's a legitimate academic experience for anyone who wants to do it. Any student who has even an inkling that they want to [study abroad] should look into it [because] it's probably more accessible than they might think.

Also, we try and match the right person to the right program. Even for people who have never gone anywhere, we have a program for them. We're going to make sure they're going where they should be going - where they will thrive.

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