By: Aaron L. Pope

Algonquin has been increasing its international presence by partnering with educational institutions from China to India and Saudi Arabia – and very soon Kuwait.

“I would encourage students to take advantage of the opportunity to explore different cultures, to realize the world is big but it’s quite small,” said Kent MacDonald, President of Algonquin. “Even if that experience is only for a week or a couple of months through some sort of work placement like Montenegro, what they will bring back will positively influence them for the rest of their lives.”

Sometimes this can be very difficult to do. For example, there used to be Algonquin students studying in Egypt but the college no longer sends students there, as it is very dangerous and the ability to travel is limited.

Not only does the college seek to have its Canadian students travel and see the world, it also welcomes international students from all over to come learn and experience life in Canada.

“International students coming to study in Canada generate more revenue for (us) as a nation then exporting our wheat,” said Susan Olszynko, Algonquin College’s manager for marketing and recruitment. “Education is now being considered by the Canadian government as an export product.”

Nearly 800 foreigners from around the world are welcomed by Algonquin College every year. International students help broaden our understanding of the world by forming clubs and educating Canadian students on what it’s like to come here from a foreign country as well as developing contacts and networks for the future.

Of course traveling can be very expensive and not all students are financially equipped to explore the world on their own. MacDonald created a bursary in 2005 that has raised nearly $50,000 and sent Algonquin students to study in Montenegro. Although there is plenty of money in the bursary, MacDonald has noted that no one has applied in a couple of years, and he would like to see that change in the future.

MacDonald has travelled the world and understands that breaking out of your comfort zone and experiencing other cultures firsthand widens your perception of what it means to be human.

It is important to remember that not all countries share Canada’s perception of equality and political freedom. This has become something of a point of contention amongst members of Algonquin’s Board of Governors, and they are currently seeking new ways and new markets that align with the college’s reputation.

“As we mature and go further internationally, I think it’s very important that we are all on the same page and debate these ethical, moral type of issues in a very open way,” said MacDonald. “I think it’s going to be a very healthy discussion, I think it’s time.”

The college’s board of governors will be meeting next semester to discuss their policies on getting involved with foreign educational institutions and governments, and the ramifications of these relationships on the safety and reputation of Algonquin.

“Education is a powerful tool to change people’s perspective on things, and it brings hope, employment and all the social and economic benefit,” said MacDonald. “In doing that, it’s not as clear as ‘this is right and this is wrong.’”

Coming to a consensus on where to become involved, which countries to do business with is not a black and white affair. The board of governors must look at each offer from each country in the context of what is best for the school and the students involved.

The bursary is Small World, Big Picture and is available through the schools catalogue.