During the 2022-23 academic year, more than 115 York University students will be heading off to 60 universities in 25 countries, studying or interning abroad for the first time in two years. Students had an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about what to expect during a session hosted by York International.
By Elaine Smith
York International (YI) staff explained to dozens of these prospective travellers the ins and outs of studying or working abroad during an April 23 orientation session moderated by Ashley Laracy, YI’s associate director of global learning. As the session began, Laracy encouraged the students to use the online chat box to tell everyone where they were studying and when allowing the participants to arrange informal social media support groups.
“It is great to return to the work we love – facilitating global learning programs and pushing students outside of their comfort zone. Some students have been waiting for two years for the opportunity to study or work abroad with one of York’s global partners. We are excited to prepare them for their journey, to help them reflect on the skills they will develop overseas, and ensure they are setting themselves up for academic or career development success.”
After a welcome by Helen Balderama, YI’s director of global engagement, it was time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Sara Jane Campbell, YI’s safety abroad manager, provided a rundown of risk-management procedures for staying safe during COVID-19, reminding students that the risk still exists and each country has different pandemic entrance requirements. She discussed the insurance required for York travel and the documents students will require, such as passports and visas for most countries. Campbell also talked about managing finances while abroad and bank accounts in other countries.
When living in a new place, Campbell noted to students, it’s important to be mindful of one’s safety. She suggested that students create risk assessment plans for any potentially risky situation, such as coming home from an event late at night. Campbell said their plans should include these three steps: identifying potential hazards; analyzing the risk; and creating a risk mitigation strategy.
Campbell advised the students to know the laws of their new country, to be aware of danger zones and possible criminal activity. Some risks, she noted, such as natural disasters, are unavoidable, so it’s important to connect with the Canadian consulate in case an evacuation is necessary.
It’s also important, she said, to be aware of health risks, such as water safety, food safety and other possible diseases that might require vaccination in advance. Students were advised to take copies of all of their prescriptions and immunization records and to know where medical services are available in their new location. To ensure that students always have assistance available, York has a travel registry for students and there is an emergency contact number they can call collect if problems arise.
In addition to health and safety, there are academic components for students to consider. Kathleen Meagher, YI’s global learning co-ordinator, explained the process to the attendees, noting that it is imperative for them to speak to their home departments about the courses they want to take overseas to ensure that the credits will transfer back to York. Students should meet with their academic advisers to determine the outstanding credits they have, which courses they need for their degree and whether there are any they can’t take overseas. (There is also a form to fill out for YI and sign-off to obtain.)
Next, the students attended breakout sessions based on the programs they were pursuing abroad: an internship, a summer program, an exchange or a Glendon program. In the exchange session, for example, Meagher explained the application process and funding opportunities.
Once students are nominated to study abroad, they must apply to the partner institution. The overseas university will require various documents, such as a transcript, references and a financial statement. Although students pay their tuition to York, they must enrol in the other university according to the instructions they receive. Students will also need to determine what their courses equal in York credits and check any add/drop dates. Anyone who is taking at least three courses is eligible for OSAP. There are also financial awards available to help defray costs. A pass in each course is required for overseas course credit to transfer to York.
The global internship breakout session led by Recep Demir, YI global learning co-ordinator, was tailored to students going abroad for a summer internship or working remotely for a company outside Canada. First, Roma Kazinska, a career counsellor with York’s Career Centre, spoke to the group about how internships can help a student’s career prospects. Demir then talked about what students should expect from an internship and how to make the most out of the experience.
“It’s important to understand the other culture’s norms and practices,” Demir said. “Learn the cultural history of the country and the organization where you’ll be working. Respect the work they’ve done; have a sense of humility. It’s important to be flexible and open to your mistakes, but above all, stay healthy and safe.”
After the breakout sessions, Meagher conducted an intercultural communications session for all attendees, explaining that culture is an iceberg, much of which isn’t visible to the casual observer. She said that students should do a lot of reflection as they adjust to a new culture and learn to be flexible because there may be differences in values and perspectives on the world.
“Being comfortable with ambiguity is a good skill to learn,” she said. “It gives you greater confidence to deal with complex challenges.”
The event ended with breakout sessions led by exchange students coming to York University in Fall 2022 who talked with students about what to expect in the countries or regions where they will be studying or working and answered myriad questions about everything from housing to transportation.
York International will also be holding specialized workshops about credit transfers and intercultural communication for students who wish to delve deeper before they go abroad. Contact YI for more information.