Taking learning on the road

The exposure to new people, culture and experiences that come with studying in a different Canadian city or town is greatly magnified when you pursue your university degree outside of Canada altogether.

“There’s a huge potential for personal growth and enrichment, because it fosters an incredible amount of maturity, resourcefulness and self-reliance,” says Jeff Minthorn, editor-in-chief of Verge magazine, a national quarterly publication covering study, work and volunteer abroad options.

Not only does an international education give you a whole new way of looking at the world, Minthorn says, it also makes you much more marketable to certain employers upon graduation.

“In our increasingly interconnected global marketplace, this experience can be a big plus on your resumé,” Minthorn says.

Reaping these potentially higher rewards requires considerable up-front planning and decision making to find the right program, at the right university, in the right setting.

From an academic perspective, you’ll want to make sure whatever program you’re considering will be valid and useful to your career plans in Ontario.

“It depends on what field you’re choosing to study, but you can generally consider yourself safe with any undergraduate degree you’re pursuing,” Minthorn says. Further to this point, consider in advance whether you might like to build your career outside of Canada, so that you can tailor your educational choice accordingly.

“If a student wants to work in Europe after graduating, they have to give more thought to their choice of institution, because in some European countries, the school you attended will be an important consideration for employers,” he says.

Think about the culture of the country in which your prospective university is situated, and whether you want to study in a big city or small town.

“If you grew up in a small town, you might be more comfortable going to a St. Catharines-sized town (approximately 130,000 people), or, maybe your attitude is, give me as big as it gets, and you’re thinking the University of London,” Minthorn says.

Unless you have a second language, it’s a good idea to pursue an undergraduate degree in another English-speaking country to make your transition and your education easier.

Tuition fees at an American or overseas school are usually higher than at a Canadian university, he says, “But that’s not necessarily always true — it depends on the country you choose to study in,” he says.

Other cost factors to research include cost-of-living expenses such as accommodation and food, and plane tickets for travelling to and from home.

Scholarships and financial aid options can help mitigate some of these costs. Minthorn advises students to research these options not only from universities, but also the professional association of the field they want to enter, as well as organizations such as the Aga Khan Foundation.

If your budget allows it, you should visit the university you have in mind. Otherwise, locate cultural community groups relating to the country of the institution you’re considering, and ask their members what it’s like to live and study there.

Finally, Minthorn says, ensure you have a good understanding of your own motivations for wanting to study abroad.

“Think about what you hope to gain and learn, and keep those ideas and goals in mind when you get there.”

Useful websites:

Check out these organizations online for information on study abroad options:

Canadian Bureau for International Education

Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials

Canadian International Development Agency

Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

International Council for Canadian Studies