Symposium explores international experience for students

Over 30 academics from Canadian and American universities explored innovative ways of integrating international experiential education into all faculties at York during a symposium here earlier this month.

A central theme of the symposium was using the principles and practices of experiential education to enrich international activities. Internationalization is the integration of an international component into courses of study. Experiential education is “learning by doing”. 

Left: Over 30 academics from Canadian and Universities attended the symposium

The annual symposium is organized by the Office of the Associate Vice-President International. Attendance was the highest ever, with over 90 participants.

“This symposium was a landmark for our internationalization efforts. More than the large number of participants, I am gratified by the fact that colleagues from every faculty at York took part,” said Adrian Shubert, associate vice-president international. “It was particularly exciting to hear the voices of the students who had pioneered our international internship program.”

An array of presenters

Keynote speaker Josef Mestenhauser, professor emeritus in educational policy and administration from the University of Minneapolis, gave a theory-based start to the conference. He described five core areas in which experiential and international education are “married”: cultural, cognitive, social psychological, systems thinking and interdisciplinary. Small group sessions offered participants a chance to develop practical applications of Mestenhauser’s concepts.

Sheila Embleton, York’s vice president academic, opened the afternoon sessions, which featured a series of panel discussions about successful York international programs with experiential components.

Shin Imai, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, referring to Aboriginal law, said international experience could occur even at home, based on the idea that intercultural experiential education can occur not just in other parts of the world, but just a few blocks away. Integrating experiential international education at home can provide valuable learning for students who might not be able to go overseas.

Paul Stanley, Chair of physics and astronomy at Wisconsin’s Beloit College, spoke about integrating international experiences into science curricula. When asked by a participant what percentage of students he thought should have some sort of overseas experience during their undergraduate degree, he said 100 per cent.

Shubert said funding, traditionally a large issue for students considering studying abroad, is becoming less so York, since nearly any appropriate international incentive can qualify for funding from the Office of the Associate Vice-President International.

Right: York International interns share their stories

York students who were the first participants in the York International Internship Program described their placements. Enrolled in everything from history to engineering, they talked about such placements as non-governmental organizations in Ottawa, a university international office in Valencia, Spain, and an urban development project in Madras, India. Their lively presentations outlined some of the successes possible through international experiential education.

Narda Razack, professor in York’s School of Social Work, shared the results of her research into issues of imperialism, racism, sexism, and nationalism and how they affect international experiential education. She showed the dangers of throwing students into international experiences without intensive pre-departure and re-entry briefing and debriefing sessions – something all York-administered programs do already.

Ann Sherman of St. Francis Xavier University talked about STFX’s immersion service learning program, an experiential program that features overseas placements as well as one placement in Toronto, which is almost “international” for students growing up in the maritime provinces outside of large cities.

Other presenters included Joseph L. Brockington, associate provost for international programs at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, who spoke about K Plan – a program that has 80 per cent of students participating in study-abroad programs.

Jonathan Foster, experiential learning coordinator at the University of New Brunswick, and Norah McRae, manager of the business co-op and career centre at the University of Victoria, spoke about the innovative international experiential programs their universities are engaged in. Foster described the Renaissance College Interdisciplinary Leadership Program, an exciting degree program in which students complete two internships – one in Canada and one abroad. McRae presented details of UVic’s co-op program, which not only places about 20 per cent of its students internationally, but also draws a number of international students to them.

York alumna Lisanne Morgan, family stay coordinator and program coordinator at Mexico’s Center for Global Education Program, talked about giving students from Augsburg College in Minneapolis the chance to meet indigenous peoples.

The closing session was moderated by Ros Woodhouse, academic director of York’s Centre for Support of Teaching. It featured comments by Paul Marmer, an environmental studies student at York, Carolyn MacLeod, experiential learning coordinator at York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, and Lorna Wright, director of Schulich’s International MBA Program.

For more details about the conference and York’s international programs, visit York International, call 416-736-5177 or visit the office at 108 Vanier College.

Rob Read, acting Web communications & publications assistant in the Office of the Associate Vice-President International, sent this conference report to YFile.