What to know before your international experience
By: Robyn Welsh, Publishing Editor
This spring semester, 114 students are attending field schools in China, Ghana, Guatemala, Hawaii, India, Norway, and Sri Lanka. Approximately 10 students are participating in international work placements and eight in summer exchange programs. What these students have in common, is a life-changing experience ahead of them.
Trinda Guillet, International Project Coordinator at the Mount Royal University Office of International Education says international experience, “gives students a global perspective on the area of field they’re studying, on just their personal lives and what they do in the world: their interactions with people.”
Guillet works strictly with international field schools at MRU, supporting students with things like questions, paperwork and payments. She also works with field school instructors to develop programs and budgets, with info sessions and to ensure the smooth running of the field school by assisting administratively.
After graduating MRU, Guillet had the opportunity to work abroad in a small town in France. At the time, she didn’t have an international office to help her. She made a lot of mistakes, but learned a lot.
“You don’t know how much you can handle until you’re in it,” she says.
The office of International Education has tools for students taking place in any sort of international experience. Whether you’re going on a field school, an international work experience or a study abroad, these tips may come in handy for your travels.
Guillet says that the number one regret students have shared upon returning from field schools is that many wish they had prepared more academically before departing. All field schools are designed differently, so this does not apply to all of them, but if you have reading to complete, try to get it done beforehand. You will thank yourself when you have more time to spend enjoying the trip!
Some students also wish they had saved more money for shopping, food, and fun experiences when abroad. Keeping your expenses in mind and preparing in advance can ease a lot of stress. If you’re thinking about participating in an international experience in the future, saving money now will save you from picking up too many extra shifts at work during stressful times.
There is a lot of advice you’re bombarded with before going on a large trip like this. Upon returning, Many students have shared that they wish they followed advice like recommendations of medicines and snacks to bring as well as packing recommendations more closely.
Take advantage of resources
The Office of International Education and the program facilitators for your experience can be some of your best friends when preparing if you let them. If you are confused by paperwork, worried about getting sick, or simply don’t know what to pack, there is no need to stress! You can always ask for clarification or advice from your MRU support team.
Bags can get heavy quickly and the last thing you need to be worrying about is how you’re going to lugg a 70 pound backpack around with you.
When going on a trip of this magnitude if may feel like you need to bring clothes for every day of the trip. But bringing an outfit for every day of the month is not feasible. You’ll thank yourself if you pack minimal clothing (about three to five outfits) and bring a bar of laundry detergent to wash your clothes in the shower.
Make sure you think carefully about footwear as well. You will likely be walking around more than you’re used to, so having comfortable shoes will save you from a few nasty blisters.
Consider trying to cut down your toiletry load for the trip. Bring just the essentials because liquids can get quite heavy! You can also get shampoo and conditioner bars to cut down on liquids.
It can be easy to take photos of or write down every detail on your trip because you’re scared of not fully capturing the experience. Even though you will have these photos to look back on forever, you need to actually experience the trip to remember and reflect on it.
“I think my biggest piece of advice […] would really be to you know, step back and slow down when you’re on the experience,” Guillet says.
Try to reflect on every day before going to sleep so the experience is more impactful in the long run. Guillet says “things might not always be easy, and everything might not be perfect. So always keep that open mind and remember your main goal, what you’re wanting to get out of this, and kind of keep things in perspective as you’re going through all the steps.”
Embrace the opportunity because “not everyone will be able to do these and will be able to afford these and so having that […] knowledge come back in, is a great way for it to filter its way down,” Guillet says.
More information about 2019 international experiences will be posted on the Office of International Education website soon.