Going beyond borders

- January 8, 2019

Dal student Calum Blackwood. (Carter Hutton photo)
Dal student Calum Blackwood. (Carter Hutton photo)

For someone from the small town of Terrace Bay in northwestern Ontario who wants to major in marine biology, studying in New Zealand or Australia would be a dream come true. Thanks to a lucky prize draw, Calum Blackwood is one step closer to that dream.

It started when the first-year integrated Science student stopped by the Go Beyond Borders Fair coordinated by Dalhousie’s International Centre back in October. The annual event offers students the opportunity to talk with International Centre staff about the university’s exchange and study abroad programs, and meet students who have returned from their own international experiences. Calum wanted to find out how he could marry his love of travelling with his studies.

“Being committed to four years of university was a tough decision for me because I knew it would be hard to travel during this time,” he says. “But the opportunity to do an exchange will allow me to compromise and explore the world while working towards my degree.”

To help promote the idea of studying abroad, the International Centre and the Office of International Relations (OIR) received $4,000 from the Provost’s office to be awarded as an exchange voucher at the Fair. At the end of the day, Calum’s name was drawn.

“This money is a huge help for me,” he says. “It will help to cover travel and living expenses and has definitely been an influencing factor in my decision to go on exchange. Without the money, it may not have been feasible for me to do an exchange next year.

Helping manage travel costs

One of the biggest deterrents to students studying abroad has always been the associated costs. While there are the regular tuition fees, there are additional costs associated with flights, room and board, and incidentals such as travelling to other nearby destinations while abroad.

That’s why Dalhousie has needs-based funding programs in place to assist students overcome financial barriers. The Student Work/International Fund (SWIF) has been around for some time and awards up to $2,000 per student, while the Go Beyond Borders (GBB) bursary was introduced in early 2018 and awards up to $1,500 per student.

The Go Beyond Borders program has been an instant hit. A total of $150,000 has been contributed by the Provost’s office to be distributed over two years — mostly for bursaries, but also funds for faculty to develop international field courses. Between February and June of 2018, there were 48 GBB bursaries awarded, totalling $70,000. They were given to students in seven faculties who went to 20 countries, the majority of which were short-term international learning experiences of fewer than eight weeks.

Making plans

Sending more students abroad has become a priority for Dalhousie in recent years, says Megan Chipp, coordinator of international strategic initiatives in the OIR.

“Dalhousie’s international strategy recognizes the impact of international learning to open minds and build inter-cultural skills and aptitudes, while creating opportunities for international engagement for students,” she says.

Not only does it benefit the students’ academic and personal experiences, it also helps develop more and stronger international partnerships with other universities. It also strengthens Dalhousie’s national and global reputation.

The university currently has 108 exchange and study abroad partners in 33 countries. There are also 15–20 international field courses and other international learning opportunities such as the CLIC Initiative in China and various research internships co-ops, and clinical placements at the faculty or department level.

During the 2017–18 academic year, approximately 650 undergraduate and more than 70 graduate students at Dal participated in some type of a credit-based international learning experience. While that marked a 4.9 per cent increase for undergraduate students and a 22 per cent increase for graduate students over the previous year, the university wants to double the participation rate by 2020.

To help increase the numbers, a new website was launched late in the fall (dal.ca/studyabroad) that expands on the information that was previously available to students online—including details about the available opportunities, financial assistance, and the support provided by the International Centre.

There has also been an increased focus on getting students to share their own international experiences, resulting in popular Instagram stories on the Dal Student Life Instagram account (@dalstudentlife).

If all goes according to plan, Calum will be one of those students doing an Instagram takeover in Australia or New Zealand. He’s still figuring out which destination offers the right fit for his program, and isn’t sure whether he will go for a semester or a full year, but as long as he keeps up his grades he’s ready to pack his bags.

“I’m looking forward to exploring new places and meeting new people from around the world,” he says. “I’m also excited to escape Canada for some warmer weather!”

For students interested in studying abroad during the 2019 academic year, the deadline for application is January 31. Information can be found at dal.ca/studyabroad and students can talk with an advisor at the International Centre


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