What Now?!? conference examines life for students after being abroad

“Find an opportunity as quick as you can” to go abroad again was the advice that CBC foreign correspondent David Common (BA Hons. ’99) gave to a group of students recently returned from study or work abroad. Common was a guest speaker at “What Now?!?,” a day-long conference for returning exchange and internship students jointly sponsored by York University, Ryerson University and the University of Toronto, and held at Ryerson on Saturday, Sept. 27.

Common spent a term as an exchange student at Stockholm University while completing his joint York/Seneca degree. He described his experiences and what he learned during his time abroad, and then the process of eventually returning to Paris after eight years with the CBC in Canada. Common observed that the longer the delay, the harder it becomes to go back abroad, because one’s life circumstances change over time, with such things as jobs, marriage and children making the return difficult.

Above: From left, What Now ?!? conference speakers Laura Ojanen, Beth Alaksa, Nigmendra Narain, David Common and Paul Yeung 

Now in its third year, the day-long re-entry conference is aimed at helping students who have been abroad on exchange or internship readjust to life back home, incorporate the experience into resumes and applications, and develop ideas for other international possibilities they might pursue, or “taking it to the next level,” as Suying Hugh, University of Toronto’s work & study abroad officer, called it.

“Only with a group adventurous enough to go abroad for a period of study or internship could we expect such a good crowd on a rainy Saturday morning,” said Adrian Shubert, York’s associate vice-president international, as he opened the conference.

Several people with connections to York University lent their perspectives to the conference. Nigmendra Narain, a former PhD student at York University, now a lecturer in political science at the University of Western Ontario, spoke about “Growing Your Experience into the Classroom and for Graduate School”. Narain is a key participant in York International’s annual Emerging Global Leaders Program and an advocate of international pursuits. Communication consultant Marlene Bernholtz, contract faculty member with the Faculty of Arts and the Centre for Academic Writing at York University, gave advice on marketing one’s international experience. Laura Ojanen (BA Hons. ’01), now with HAMK University of Applied Sciences in Finland, gave a personal reflection on her student experience abroad and its effect on her life.

Other contributors included Paul Yeung, senior manager with RBC Financial Services, speaking about his experience as a student abroad; and Christopher Hurst, a counsellor and therapist at the Office of Health Professions Student Affairs, University of Toronto, who brought the students back home to Canada by giving a presentation on re-entry adjustment.

“Re-entry from an international experience can have its challenges, and bringing our students back together upon return to Toronto is an important step in the process,” said Beth Alaksa, coordinator of International Mobility Programs, York International and one of the conference organizers. “Every participant indicated that their stay back in Toronto would only be temporary and the information from the speakers was invaluable.”

Submitted to YFile by Carol Irving, York International policy analyst