Student abroad programs help build professional skills and self-confidence 

Eric Root was out of his comfort zone when he found himself stranded at the airport in Hong Kong in 2014. His contact at Hong Kong Polytechnic University was unable to pick him up, he didn’t have directions to give a taxi driver, and he didn’t speak any Mandarin.

That was his first taste of what was a four-month exchange experience through UNB, but the remainder of his time in Hong Kong was much better.

“At the ATM in the airport, I met another student going to the university. We split a cab and had a meal together and from there, my network grew,” said Mr. Root. “I ended up having such an unbelievable time.” 

UNB offers student abroad experiences to more than 35 countries and a range of options, spanning a 10-day field school to a full year in another country. 

Pascale Schicks and Veronica McGinn, co-ordinators of the student abroad program at UNB, want to increase student mobility, provide them with more experiential learning opportunities, and open their minds to the world beyond their dorm rooms. 

More than 35 countries to choose from

Students have the option to participate in an academic experience, work experience, internship, co-op placement, or international volunteer experience. They’re also able to complete more than one. 

“We’ve had some students start with a 10-day field school, then take a semester abroad, then go somewhere else for an internship,” Ms. Schicks said.

The list of countries and host organizations changes year to year, but in the past students have been able to work and study in Germany, Hong Kong, the United States, Malawi, Jamaica, the United Kingdom, and more.

Any student in good academic standing can go abroad – meaning a 2.5 CGPA or better. Most programs are only available for third- or fourth-year students, although the shorter journeys are open to junior students with 15 credit hours and a 2.5 CGPA. The only other restriction is 50 per cent of a student’s credit hours must come from UNB to receive a degree from the university.

It’s no surprise most students want to go to Europe because of the ease of international travel once there, but Ms. McGinn said the advisors sit down with the students to ensure they will benefit from their destination.

“We want to make sure we create a valuable match between the student goals and the programs being offered.  We meet with each student and together select programs and destinations to provide individual learning opportunities.  Our academic partners may be able to provide courses which UNB does not offer, while our internship partners provide hands on learning experiences to bridge the gap between theory and practice. said Ms. McGinn, adding most universities want to create partnerships, but it’s important to choose the right one for the needs of UNB students.

Funding available for students looking to study abroad

In 2014-15, 190 students went abroad.

“We have about 90 places where students can go, although some are more popular than others. But having that many partners means we have lots of free spots for exchanges,” Ms. Schicks said. “We could send three times the numbers we’re sending.” 

Funding is often an issue for students looking to travel, but it depends where one wants to study and the lifestyle they want to lead while there. Australia and the United Kingdom are at the top of the list for expensive countries, but studying in Asia is often much more affordable.

Students can also put their financial aid towards their travel, in addition to applying for scholarships and funding. UNB’s Student Abroad Bursary aims to provide the cost of the airline ticket for each student going abroad. The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship awards $6,000 to students travelling to Malawi, Zambia, Ghana, Barbados, or Jamaica, to complete a 90-day internship. 

The aim is to enhance our academic programs by getting students out of their comfort zone to establish professional networks, use problem-solving skills, expand their communications set, and build self-confidence.

“We really want them to learn to be open-minded. If they are able to come back to Canada and see things from a different perspective, we’ve done a lot,” said Ms. Schicks. “It may not be the best time of a student’s life, but it’s a good experience. It’s also good if someone tries something and decides it’s not for them.”

UNB’s supportive learning environment travels with each student. Throughout a student’s time abroad, Ms. Schicks and Ms. McGinn maintain an engaged relationship with them. Students have their own advisors wherever they go, as it can be difficult to co-ordinate from another continent, but the door is always open at UNB if they need it.

By spending his fall semester abroad, Mr. Root increased his self-confidence and had an opportunity to meet the future leaders of the geomatics industry, his field of study.

“The discipline is a niche field, so the people you meet today are going to be the big players tomorrow.”

As for what advice Mr. Root offers UNB students, he kept it simple. 

“If you’re even thinking about doing it, do it. Don’t wonder about what could have been,” he said. 

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