Munk students make the most of Reading Week
Almost 40 undergraduates travel abroad for a first-hand education
Its studious name notwithstanding, Reading Week is seen by many as a time to leave their books behind and unwind before the start of exam season. But nearly 40 students from the Munk School of Global Affairs used the week away from classes to travel to Japan, Georgia or Vietnam to study everything from urban development to energy legislation.
“Being able to travel to Georgia and conduct interviews with people actually involved in the government provided me with a perspective on my research that I would not have otherwise gained,” says Courtney Hallink, a third-year international relations major studying this nation’s transition into a market economy. “It’s the best experience I’ve had so far in my university career.”
The trips to Georgia and Vietnam were made possible by the International Course Module (ICM), a program funded by the Faculty of Arts & Science. ICMs allow faculty like Professor Robert Austin of the Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies to incorporate an international experience into the framework of an existing course.
Students conduct primary research, an opportunity not always available to undergrads. Through his course “Enlarging Europe – the European Union and its applicants”, Austin has sent 10 groups of students to Europe, seven to Kosovo and three to Georgia.
“Once you see and hear things in person, it becomes much easier and more rewarding to tie them in with what you have learned in class,” says Raja Abdo, an ethics, society and law student who is studying the challenges and successes of Georgia’s wine industry.
Fourth-year contemporary Asian studies student Xin Zhang agrees that face-to-face interaction makes all the difference in research.
“Good research really depends on the people you’re working with,” says Zhang, who spent Reading Week studying urban development in Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, Vietnam.
“I had access to local students, city officials and residents, who all helped me better understand Vietnam’s distinct policies on urban planning. Our student interpreter did lots of extra research for us even after our stay in Vietnam.”
In Japan, 19 U of T students participated in the KAKEHASHI Project, an international initiative sponsored by the Japanese government. The program is aimed at fostering face-to-face exchange between the Japanese and the rest of the world.
A total of 130 Canadian students were invited to attend lectures on Japanese politics, society, history and diplomatic relations. Homestays and storytelling sessions gave students a rich opportunity to hear firsthand accounts of some of the most salient events of recent history, like the devastating 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
“I met a woman who told us about a small village that was very substantially impacted by the tsunami,” says Amy Bronson, a first-year master of global affairs candidate. “Almost every building was washed away and many deaths occurred in the exact spot we were standing.”
“The impact of her story brought learning about post-tsunami reconstruction to life in a way that is much more human than studying government policy and economic impact.”
Although there wasn’t much reading to be done during Reading Week, students agreed that their time away greatly enhanced their learning.
“To go on this whirlwind adventure for a week was life-changing,” says Bronson of her experience in Japan. “It gave me a very enhanced appreciation for what I’m studying.
“Going abroad to learn in an immersive way is really the best way.”