By Elaine Smith
The slate of summer study abroad courses offered by the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) at York University is as popular as it was pre-pandemic and features new courses, as well as old favourites. In fact, its success has the Faculty looking toward a domestic version.
“The program is back in full force with seven courses, and students are really excited to travel again,” said Katie Gribbons, study abroad co-ordinator for LA&PS.
In 2024, three popular intermediate language courses – language and culture in China, Italy and Spain – will be reactivated, as well as three others: Anthropology Through the Visual in Lisbon; Greece: A Modern History in Athens; and the Politics of Youth and Old Age in Seoul. In addition, a new course joins the roster, Romantics en Route: Contexts of Literary Production in England.
“We don’t offer the same courses every year,” said MJ Maciel Jorge, associate dean, global and community engagement for LA&PS. “The goal is to offer a variety of courses that engage students in global issues and provide an immersive experience they wouldn’t get otherwise. We work with instructors to promote attractive, value-added experiences and meaningful student
LA&PS organizes the program itself. Gribbons works closely with York International (YI) so that LA&PS processes and policies are closely aligned with those YI co-ordinates. She works with faculty who are proposing summer abroad courses, shepherding them through the proposal stage, evaluations, review, the formal curriculum process and approval. Gribbons also works with study abroad partner institutions and organizations to arrange accommodations, activities and day trips. She promotes the program and recruits students, too.
“We take a concierge approach to studying abroad that is tailored to student needs,” said Maciel Jorge. “In addition to being with an instructor they know while abroad, they are in contact with Katie, with whom they’ve been working for months. All of our students also get some financial support from LA&PS.”
Both Maciel Jorge and Gribbons are happy to see the current interest in the courses, because many of the students enrolling are those who were constrained by the pandemic and have never travelled on their own. Gribbons said culture shock among the students is not uncommon but, luckily, the professors are incredibly supportive and are comfortable with the location, which helps the students adjust, too.
“Katie works with the students to build their confidence and stretch their comfort zone,” said Maciel Jorge. “They get to experience and learn from global perspectives and in doing so students are able to acquire intercultural skills and reflect on the value of global citizenship.
“Each year of the program, we learn valuable lessons and we are able to fine-tune our policies and processes for an enhanced experience for faculty and students.”
Gribbons noted that LA&PS conducts pre-departure surveys and post-trip surveys to learn about the students’ experiences.
“The top skills they gain are confidence and independence,” she said. “For many, it’s the first time they are travelling without their parents; it may be their first airline ride and first passport. They’re so nervous beforehand, but when they come back, they wish the trip was longer. They’ve been able to navigate a new place and learned to be resilient and resourceful.”
This month, LA&PS is launching a community of practice around studying abroad, targeting both instructors scheduled to teach in summer of 2024, but also colleagues considering the 2025 experience.
“We want to bring together all our colleagues who teach abroad or are interested in proposing courses for deep reflection on a student-centred approach,” said Maciel Jorge. “We will share best practices and look at how to continue providing tailored resources. We’ll also be revamping our website to include a variety of tools for students and faculty.”
A potential domestic study away program is being discussed, and the Faculty is hoping to run a pilot program in 2024.
“This is very meaningful to the Faculty and the University as a whole,” said Maciel Jorge. “It will give our students an opportunity to learn about global issues from a national perspective. Global citizenship starts at home. We plan to work with historically marginalized, immigrant and Indigenous communities on issues that often go unnoticed. We want to see how we can advance the University’s mission of decolonization, equity, diversity, and inclusion and our commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. So much of what we do domestically, such as water management and sustainable economics, for example, is of a global nature.
“Either domestically or abroad, the benefits for students are immense. Learning about new ways of being and seeing the world makes one take notice of one’s own place in it, a collective human experience. We gain a notion of empathy and connectedness to the world at large from these global interactions.”
Those interested can learn more about the LA&PS Summer Study Abroad Program by visiting the website.