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Global Campus

The benefits of short-term study abroad experiences

At U of T Mississauga, a program gives students the opportunity to foster intercultural fluency.

par GILBERT LIN | 14 SEP 23

Research has shown again and again how global learning experiences encourage transformative growth for postsecondary students. In recent years, institutions have developed international strategic plans to help their students and community adopt a global mindset and foster intercultural fluency.

At the University of Toronto Mississauga, we have been exploring, developing and implementing non-traditional  short-term immersive global learning experiences called UTM Abroad. Launched in 2016, the program offers two types of experiences: academic and co-curricular. Academic travel experiences are designed to complement a specific for-credit course to allow for deeper understanding through first-hand experience with local communities. Co-curricular experiences, on the other hand, are developed with a topic of interest at a unique location in mind where students participate in community engagement initiatives and develop an understanding of community development and social change. While our faculty partners lead the curriculum and itinerary development of the experience, our team at the International Education Centre (IEC) at UTM leads the logistics, safety and accessibility components of the experience, as well as and supporting student and intercultural development.

One example of this program in practice happened last year: a group of UTM students visited Reykjavik, Iceland, as part of their management course, Managing Global Organizations. Students met with leaders from various industries – including those from a social enterprise, high-tech start up, the government and a large multinational – gaining firsthand management insight. They toured a workplace and a factory with a networking component built into the itinerary.

If you are interested in creating a program similar to UTM Abroad, I offer the following five recommendations:

  1. Find a faculty champion: Work with faculty who teach courses that have global themes and are interested in taking their teaching to a new experiential level.
  2. Create long-lasting and reciprocal partnerships: Since our centre already has partners all over the globe, we capitalize on those partnerships and deepen our relationships on the ground. We also offer to host their students in the future to ensure reciprocity.
  3. Ensure you have the human resources to pull it off: A meaningful international experience, one that is co-developed with faculty, involves staff who has a background in student affairs and in the areas of global learning and student development.
  4. Create a bursary program: Travel is not cheap and inflation sure is not helping. Therefore, having a bursary program will allow your program to be more financially accessible to students. The Ontario Student Assistance Program is also one of the many criteria we use to assess bursary qualification in order to allow international students to apply.
  5. Develop a robust risk management strategy: International experiences also involves more risks. It is important that you develop a critical and robust risk management plan. Partnering up with external organizations (e.g., InternationalSOS) can help with this.

Planning these experiences is not an easy task. However, the impact they have on students is profound and everlasting. As we move forward, we are creating more partnerships on the ground and building more opportunities to allow students to foster and reflect on their intercultural learnings.

This column is coordinated through the Internationalization of Student Affairs Community of Practice of the Canadian Association of College & University Student Services (CACUSS). For comments or questions please contact [email protected].

Gilbert Lin is assistant director of intercultural and global initiatives at the University of Toronto Mississauga.
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