A school away from school

Summer abroad programs offer an alternative to exchange

Programs offered abroad give students the opportunity to learn outside the classroom.
Image by: Gina Elder
Programs offered abroad give students the opportunity to learn outside the classroom.

This summer, hundreds of students will board a plane with the hopes of coming home with a course credit. For many of them, the classroom will come alive.

Study abroad programs such as DEVS 305, the newly created Queen’s-Blyth partnership and a summer at Herstmonceux Castle have proved popular amongst students and offer alternatives to a traditional semester or year-long exchange.

For Kelly Whiting, her trip to Havana earlier this May marked a moment of realization that the material she learned in the classroom was applicable to real life.

She was one of approximately 30 students who partook in DEVS 305, Cuban Culture and Society.

In the classroom portion of the course, students had learned about tensions between Afro-Cubans and Cubans of Spanish descent, two large cultural groups in the country. Whiting said she observed the tensions firsthand, noticing racist behaviour from the police towards groups of Afro-Cubans.

“It wasn’t until we were out wandering the streets in Havana that we witnessed what we had learned about,” Whiting, ArtSci ’12, said.

“It became real for us.” Students taking the course spend the first two weeks in May taking classes in Kingston and the last two in Havana, Cuba. While in Cuba, students study at the University of Havana and have the opportunity to visit sites and interact with locals.

“There’s nothing better than travelling,” Whiting said. “It’s the only way to learn.”

Her interest in international programs marks an ongoing trend at the university towards the expansion of summer abroad experiences. DEVS 305 was Whiting’s third study abroad experience. Although the trip was worthwhile for her, she said it wasn’t her favourite. “The Cuba experience was incredibly different from everything else I’ve done,” she said. “It’s not what I’d say an international experience is typical of.”

For her, there was a strong focus on Cuba’s arts and culture in the course, but little to no recognition of the country’s history and politics.

Although Whiting said she was happy with her decision to go, she also had some concerns about the pricing.

She pays for her tuition through scholarships and bursaries and said the pricing was unreasonable and not transparent.

In addition to hotel and flight costs, students are encouraged to bring school and medical supplies for Cuban students and pay for some of their meals while on the trip.

“We’re coming from a place of financial privilege. If someone is showing me a city, I have no problem buying them a drink or taking them out for lunch,” she said.

Though the prices in Cuba are cheaper than Canada, many of the places Whiting and her classmates were taken had comparable prices.

“Of course I have more money [than them]. But it wasn’t fair of them to put that burden on me when I could barely pay for the course as is,” she said.

Financial barriers are common problems with many study abroad options, with costs for some reaching higher than $9,000.

Despite the cost, many study abroad programs are seeing increased interest.

This year marks the start of a new summer study abroad option, Queen’s-Blyth Worldwide. 101 students signed up to participate this year. Both Queen’s students and non-Queen’s students are eligible to participate.

52 of the students enrolled in the program were from Queen’s.

Queen’s-Blyth is a partnership between the University and Blyth Education, an organization that operates several private high schools in the Toronto area.

In January 2011, an agreement was signed between the University and Blyth with the intent to partner for a program. Students spend three weeks during either May or June taking a course abroad.

This year, programs are offered in Spain, Italy, France and Costa Rica. Queen’s is the only university that offers this program. Tom Gallini, Queen’s-Blyth international assistant at the International Programs Office said the strong demand for international experiences is shown through the number of applications the office receives for fall-winter exchanges.

From 2008-12, there’s been a 40 per cent increase in applications from Queen’s students hoping to take part in a regular bilateral exchange. Because of enrolment limits, not all these students get the opportunity to go.

The University’s summer programs, according to Gallini, offer great alternatives to exchange. Some of these programs are university-wide, such as Queen’s-Blyth, or department specific, such as ARTH 245 and CLST 409.

According to Gallini, Queen’s-Blyth courses are ideal for students who are hesitant to spend a full year abroad, or who may not have the financial resources to do so.

“For them it’s a really great way of still getting international experience but not necessarily having to sign themselves up for a year on exchange,” he said. Queen’s-Blyth is looking to add additional courses and locations for summer 2013, while keeping the countries in which they currently offer courses.

Although it’s too early to confirm how the expansion will occur, the office is looking to incorporate more non-European locations. Furthermore, Queen’s-Blyth is hoping to offer 6.0 credit unit courses next year, which would take place over five weeks. Currently, they only offer 3.0 credit unit courses.

Through the partnership, Queen’s is responsible for all academic components, including choosing courses and instructors. Instructors are recruited from both Queen’s and outside universities. Credits received through the program are Queen’s credits.

The Bader International Study Centre (BISC) at Herstmonceux Castle in England also offers summer programs for students who choose to stay on campus during the fall and winter semesters.

Digvijay Mehra, ArtSci ’14, is looking at the possibility of taking courses at BISC next summer to fulfill his program requirements.

Mehra is hoping to get an international certificate on top of the major and minor components of his degree. In order to get the certificate, he said, you must spend at least a semester studying abroad.

He said he sees distinct advantages in doing a summer program, as staying on campus during the fall and winter allows him to obtain enough credits for his politics major and stay involved with his extra-curriculars.

Another perk for him is that BISC courses are Queen’s courses, so there’s no need to transfer credits. By going to BISC, students often give up the opportunity to make money through a summer job. Mehra said he sees it as a cost-benefit analysis. “The costs are losing out on that month or so of making money. But the benefits accrue over because you’re able to take in so many experiences at once.”


Academics, castle, International, study abroad

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