The Canadian Bureau for International Education aims to support exchange students
In an effort to increase the number of students studying abroad each year, Kwantlen Polytechnic University has joined the Canadian Bureau for International Education’s Learning Beyond Borders initiative. Learning Beyond Borders is “an initiative to get more Canadian students to take advantage of #LearningAbroad experiences in other countries,” as written on CBIE’s website.
One of the greatest barriers facing students who wish to travel is insufficient funds. According to CBIE research, 86 per cent of students expressed interest in studying abroad, but 80 per cent of those interested would need financial support. Another obstacle is a lack of understanding about the benefits that an international education can offer to students.
KPU is one of over 150 institutions to join the Learning Beyond Borders initiative, and in many ways. KPU International will decide what strategy will work best, and design a program that suits its particular needs.
“Each institution has to look at what the most significant barriers are to their particular cohort of students, and how they feel they can best address those barriers through institutional changes,” says Karen McBride, CEO of the Canadian Bureau for International Education.
“The issue of self confidence and risk taking, the soft skills and the knowledge that you gain from learning abroad—the data shows that it very much impacts students career paths, and they are the same skills and knowledge that employers are saying are relevant for where we need to be as a country,” says McBride.
Joseph Watson-Mackay, a student ambassador at the International office at KPU, went on a yearlong exchange to Japan. His experience is a testament to the value of studying abroad.
Watson-Mackay went to Nagoya Gakuin University in Japan as a marketing managing student to improve his Japanese and learn more about Japanese business culture. During his time in Japan, he worked in the international lounge “helping students that are studying English, helping the exchange students that are studying Japanese, and encouraging people to go on exchange.” His work in the international lounge helped land him a job at KPU International, allowing him to connect with KPU students through his experience with studying abroad
As a student ambassador, Watson-Mackay is well aware of the issues faced by students hoping to go on exchange, but assures that there are financial resources available.
“There are definitely people that want to encourage this. They know it’s important for the future of our global competitiveness. They know that it does a lot for building self confidence and increasing employability,” says Watson-Mackay. “If you put in the time, volunteer, work on getting those scholarship applications in, there’s a really high chance that they’ll recognize there’s a lot of potential in supporting that.”
He adds that it is really difficult for students to picture themselves travelling abroad. To address this, KPU is creating a series of videos called “Studying Abroad – Learning to be Local” where past exchange students talk about their time abroad. The goal is to look beyond the general benefits of going on exchange, and have students share the moments that made their trip special.
“It’s really hard for a lot of people to imagine leaving behind friends and family without any connection when they’re going there, but that’s the myth of looking at exchange,” says Watson-Mackay. “You’re not alone when you’re going on exchange like you’re alone when you go as a tourist.”
Last year, 20 KPU students participated in international exchange programs. Since this year’s spring semester, 29 students joined a study abroad program. KPU International is working towards increasing the numbers and addressing the challenges through the Learning Beyond Borders initiative and their work with CBIE.