Biology major Charise Currier spent five months in New Zealand, where she encountered kiwi birds, penguins, dolphins and giant boulders (all photos courtesy Charise Currier)

How to travel abroad at U of T

Back to School... in Asia, Europe, South America

With its emphasis on global citizenship and a wide variety of opportunities and programs, the University of Toronto encourages students to travel abroad - while earning credits towards their degrees.

Travelling can be a challenge, but as Faculty of Arts & Science undergraduate Charise Currier says in a blog she kept during an exchange to New Zeland's University of Otago:

"This time I had a community in which to belong: my university. Maybe it was just easier because this time I was ready for it: I expected culture shock. But what ever it is, I have had the chance to learn about myself, meet new people, and see a part of the world that is so beautiful and unique, and usually so inaccessible. I have lived more in these few months than I have in the last two years. It has still had it’s hard moments. I have still missed home, but it is all worth it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world."

Here are just a few of the opportunities for students – new and returning alike – to explore new cultures, gain international experience and put theory into practice.

Summer Abroad 

“Seeing a whole different culture than what we normally experience in Canada was very exciting,” says Madeline Klimek, a history and international relations student, “I immensely enjoyed our trip to Bosnia during the second portion of the program where we had 10 days to travel throughout the region and to do research for our final essay.”

Klimek travelled through Summer Abroad, a program designed to help students participate in meaningful learning experiences and engage with the world outside the classroom.

“The most rewarding part about the program was being able to experience first-hand the region we were studying,” says Aditi Ratho, a specialist in international relations, part of the Southeast Europe program last year. “The most challenging part of the program was trying to fit in so much knowledge in so short a time.”

Summer Abroad includes 45 courses across 18 countries and allows students to complete a U of T course in four to six weeks.

“Students are able to relate what they learn in the classroom to real-world situations abroad through critical analysis and synthesis of the course materials,” says program Director Sarah Witol. “They become ‘knowledgeable global citizens’ which should be an advantage in today’s competitive environment.”

(Read more about Summer Abroad)

Centre for International Experience

Through the Centre for International Experience (CIE), students have the opportunity to study at one of U of T’s 150-plus partnered global institutions while earning credits toward their U of T degree.

“This is a great way for our students to internationalize their degree, expand language skills, or develop international contacts in industry or academia,” says Loraine Au Tham, a CIE exchange officer who oversees outbound students. “We strongly encourage all our students to take advantage of the opportunities offered through the student exchange program and ‘experience the world’.”

CIE students can choose study period durations of an entire academic year, a single semester, or throughout the summer.

“The wonderful part about being abroad is that most of your days are distilled, concentrated versions of life,” writes Charise Currier in her CIE blog."You feel like you just don’t have enough time to do and see everything, and so you have to experience the most you can before the clock runs out,"

A third year biology major, Currier (pictured centre) recently spent five months on an exchange with the University of Otago in New Zealand. Among her experiences: exploring caves lit by glow worms, while tubing.

"I would have never enrolled without encouragement…but I’m so glad we did!" Currier writes. "Basically, the adventure is composed of suiting up in a wetsuit and helmet, grabbing a tiny inner tube, and climbing into an underground cave. THEN, without hesitation, we all jump backwards off a waterfall into cool, dark, eel-infested waters. Okay, so it was a small waterfall, and the eels are pretty friendly. But still." 

(Read more about CIE)

International Course Module Program

Through week-long excursions, the International Course Modules (ICM) program provides ways to enhance student learning while providing an innovative method to integrate learning beyond the classroom.

“I went on the research project because I knew that having the opportunity to concurrently marry academic studies and real-world applications is well beyond the scope of what any other university can provide you,” explains Assad Quraishi, a recent Computer Science graduate who traveled to the UK in February.

“We were able to move beyond the realms of textbooks and lectures, and actually apply the practices and methodologies.”

Modules are integrated into existing course plans and can be planned to coincide with reading week. Students submit ICM proposals which include a sponsoring faculty member. Past students have travelled to destinations in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe.

“We are working to provide a wide variety of international opportunities that will allow as many students as possible to integrate an international experience into their academic program,” says Director, International Programs and Partnerships, MP Stevens. “These opportunities allow students to apply the theories and concepts they study in the classroom to sites that are directly tied to their subject area.”

(Read more about ICM)

Munk School of Global Affairs

Students enrolled in the Munk School of Global Affairs’ Master of Global Affairs (MGA) program are required to participate in a mandatory summer internship between their first and second year of the program.

MGA students have been offered placements around the world with institutions such as the World Bank, NATO, Bombardier and the World Trade Organization – to list a few.

“Working abroad offers the opportunity to really immerse oneself in the values and day-to-day habits of other societies,” says Kristen Pue, who is currently in Brussels working for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada at NATO.

“I really think that this offers a new perspective on Canadian life.”

“[The internships are the] cornerstone of the entire program,” says Smadar Peretz, internship director for the MGA program. “We are pleased to offer a wide range of opportunities which keep expanding because of the caliber of our students.”

(Read more about MGA internships)

Gavin Au-Yeung is a writer with University Relations at the University of Toronto.

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