Mariam Jheran felt like a little fish in a big pond when she started her co-op placement in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. But on her first day, the Algonquin graduate felt welcomed and excited — and maybe a bit teary-eyed.
“It felt very surreal for me, everyone was so kind and helpful and welcoming,” Jheran said.
Jheran, an Algonquin journalism graduate, landed a co-op placement at Gulf News in Dubai through the study and work abroad program. Jheran wasn’t sure if she was actually going but with a lot of push and help from her professor, she found out a month and a half before placements started that she was going to Dubai.
At times it felt overwhelming for Jheran, but when her stories got published it felt like a huge reward.
Other students can have this type of international experience — they just have to step out of their comfort zone.
Algonquin’s study and work abroad program is looking to expand the number of students they send out on work placements.
Currently, 0.55 per cent of Algonquin’s population is participating in a type of international experience through the college. On the other hand, two per cent of university students in Canada are involved in an international experience.
Christine Peachey is the manager of international partnerships and programs at Algonquin. The focus of the International Education Centre is to grow the awareness of the opportunities that are available to students to work abroad.
“We want to get the word out to students and let them know that these opportunities are available and they can consider doing their co-op abroad,” Peachey said.
The financial aspect of the program is usually a factor why students don’t consider it. However, students can apply through an application process for a travel bursary to offset the cost of the trip.
Students have to do research themselves to try to find a placement that fits in with their schedule and field of study. The program helps with the travel registration process and pre-departure orientation, as well as supply students with free health insurance.
Algonquin is looking to set up exchange programs with colleges in different countries. International Experience Canada is a program done through Global Affairs Canada where students can do an exchange program in other countries supplied with the visas they need to work abroad.
Peachey also works with students coming to Algonquin from abroad. Currently, there are 15 students from Mexico at Algonquin for a short-term study period and in the winter 60 Danish students will be visiting.
Every fall the hospitality and tourism management students go to Montenegro to complete a term with a faculty member. The nursing program at the Pembroke campus goes to Guatemala every year as well.
It is still in the early stages of growth, but the study and work abroad program wants to expand its opportunities for students to gain workplace skills and experience that will help them get a job later in their field.
“Most people who do go abroad find it to be quite a transformational experience. You’re going to make amazing friends and have amazing experiences that you wouldn’t have had if you stayed home,” Peachey said.
Another option for students to travel abroad is by participating in Algonquin’s global projects.
There are three different global projects running through the AC Hub and volunteer centre. This year students can go to Guatemala, Dominican Republic or Kenya. Algonquin’s partners include Light Up the World, Outreach360 and ME to WE.
Rebecca Sun is the co-curricular record and volunteerism coordinator on the AC Hub team. Sun is happy with the number of students who apply to the global projects, usually receiving about 150 applications.
“It’s really exploded in the last couple of years. I would say in the last three years it has really grown a lot,” Sun said.
Part of Sun’s portfolio is to do outreach work and research to find more opportunities for students.
During the application process there are ten meetings where faculty and students gather to build their leadership and communication skills.
These trips consist of “contributing to the community as well as learning their way of life and trying to foster that relationship of understanding and support,” Sun said.
Students get to experience what it’s like living in those countries on a day-to-day basis. In Kenya, students get to participate in the water walk where locals carry 20-50 pounds of water on their heads from the well all the way to their homes. In Dominican, students get to go to the Dominican markets to their trade systems.
When students return there is a re-integration process to help avoid reverse culture shock. Students are being exposed to extreme poverty and different living situations they’re not familiar with.
The global projects at Algonquin are looking to add an opportunity during the new reading week being added in Fall 2019.
These international opportunities are a great way to meet new people, gain important life skills, and immerse yourself in a new culture.