Transform Your Education into a Global Adventure

Elissa Doerksen in Florence

A field school, exchange or internship abroad experience is your passport to becoming a global citizen.

September 18, 2019 - 2:15pm

Do you have the travel bug? A field school, exchange or internship abroad experience is your passport to becoming a global citizen.

by Rae-Anne Guenther

The best things in life are not things — they are the lasting memories created by interacting with people and the world around us.

“The experiences I have gained from travelling are worth any material item I could ever own,” says Elissa Doerksen, a VIU Bachelor of Arts in Digital Media Studies alumna. 

During her first year at VIU, Doerksen travelled to New York for a one-week art tour co-organized by the Graphic Design and Visual Art departments. 

“I had never travelled by myself before, so having the university set everything up for me made me feel comfortable. It took the stress and worry out of travelling,” she remembers. 

VIU is renowned across Canada for its short-term, faculty-led field schools, says Jennifer Sills, VIU Education Abroad Manager. 

“We have a strong field school tradition at VIU thanks to our wonderful, dedicated faculty who work tirelessly to offer these programs each year,” she says. “The programs are usually less than six weeks and students may receive academic credit for them. These study abroad opportunities are popular due to the short duration and supportive group travel experience, making them accessible to a variety of students.”


Become a Global Citizen 

About 300 VIU students attend field schools each year to countries such as Belize, Vietnam, Ghana, England and India – just to name a few. 

Doerksen got the travel bug after visiting the Big Apple, and couldn’t wait for another opportunity to catch a plane elsewhere. In her third year of studies, she signed up for a one-month study abroad opportunity to Italy through the Liberal Studies department.  

“It was a liberal arts field school focusing on the Renaissance,” she says. “Even though it didn’t directly relate to my program, I was able to earn the credits I needed to complete my degree.”

Doerksen ended up applying skills learned from her program to the field school. As a work-op student with VIU videographer John Gardiner, she received funding to produce videos about her experiences studying abroad. 

Although Doerksen got on a plane with strangers, she returned from her trip with long-lasting friendships. 

“I was looking forward to the experiences I would have and the places I would go to while I was in Florence, but I never thought about the meaningful friendships I would create while there,” says Doerksen. “I got to know so many wonderful fellow students who I would have never met if we had not gone on this trip together.”


Broader Perspective

Field school sizes range from a handful of students to groups of more than 40. Doerksen travelled with a dozen students and two faculty members from VIU, and in Florence, they joined a cohort from Toronto-based Ryerson University. 

“We would study the textbook in a classroom and the next day we would visit the places we were reading about,” Doerksen says. “I don’t think I would have retained as much or been as interested in the content if I had not experienced it first-hand.”

“It is important that our students have an opportunity to make connections to what they are studying in the classroom and apply it on a global scale,” says Sills. “Through study abroad opportunities, students are able to develop the skills to become more engaged global citizens by becoming more aware of how their actions create an impact both locally and globally.” 

Some of Doerksen’s favourite places to visit were Cinque Terre, a centuries-old seaside village on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline, and Pisa, where she got to see the famous Leaning Tower. 

“Of all the places we got to explore, I think our day trip to Assisi is the most memorable,” she says. “The small town stands out the most for me due to its rich history. They have a museum that has, ironically, preserved many material items from a culture that did not value material items. I remember carefully considering these historical items and reflecting on how we are treating that history today.”


A voyage of self-discovery

University is a time for students to set the foundation for their future careers, but it is also an important time for self-discovery. When you travel the world, you end up exploring yourself in the process. 

“As students, we tend to get overwhelmed with financial burdens, but study abroad opportunities are definitely worth it in the long-term,” says Doerksen. “Because of my Italy trip I have broadened my perspective about the world and how I interact with it.”


Why Study Abroad?

“International experience is a major asset to have when applying for jobs within your desired field and for graduate school applications. To be able to state to future employers or for graduate school applications that you gained a greater appreciation for another culture, this skill of being flexible and open translates well in the global environment we now live in.”

— Alissa Ward, a Bachelor of Business Administration student, who went on the Wine Management Field School to France


“As a Queen Elizabeth Scholarship recipient, I am now part of the global community of leaders who made the journey abroad to gain international experience in my field. I can now speak to conservation and community development issues and opportunities in a way that I would not have been able to before arriving in Ghana.”

— Kristina Vaudry, a Bachelor of Tourism Management student who went to Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary in Ghana for
an internship


“Doing an exchange through VIU’s Education Abroad program was life-changing. There is nothing like meeting people from all over the world, learning their cultures and sharing yours as you explore a new country together. The exchange program has by far been the highlight of my university career, even causing me to change my major to international business because of my new love to learn about cultures.”

— Keith Douglas Penner, a Bachelor of Business Administration student, who completed an exchange semester at the University of Huelva, Spain

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Sidebar: Take your education around the world 

There are many opportunities for VIU students to travel and learn internationally: 

• VIU organizes about 15 Field Schools (less than six weeks) for approximately 300 students each year 

• University exchange programs (at least 3-4 months)

• Global Studies Internship Program

• Anthropology Studies Internship Program

• Co-ops and internships available through the Centre for Experiential Learning 

• Queen Elizabeth Scholarship program
• International cooperation projects

Tags: International | VIU Magazine

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