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SFU needs to prioritize funds for sending students abroad

In a rapidly globalizing world, our school can’t afford not to

Old key chain in the shape of a small Earth globe
Image Credits: Horian Varlan (Flickr)

A couple years ago, I was intent on studying abroad for a year in Amsterdam. I am Dutch, and having grown up with various Dutch traditions, food, and attitudes — especially when visiting Oma and Opa — the prospect of spending a year immersed in the culture that had such an influence on my upbringing was alluring, to say the least.

As much as I love to travel, I’ve never been to the Netherlands, nor overseas for that matter, so it’s understandable that I’d find SFU’s sleek “Study Abroad” ads promising. Sadly, to go abroad requires quite an application process, and after having conversed with willing parents (at the time), I spent the next couple months gathering together submission materials — reference letters and all.

A hurried week before the application was due, my parents decided that they wouldn’t be funding the small difference I needed for the trip after all; not because it wasn’t affordable, but because they didn’t want to afford it. Needless to say, I was pretty bummed, and guilt-ridden as I sent apology emails to the lovely faculty members who’d taken the time to write letters on my behalf.

Now, I understand that funds aren’t always available to send students overseas, and I’m no longer upset with my parents in their financial decision — after all, it’s their hard-earned money. Though I see a much broader picture that seems to have swept our society: many individuals and families today simply do not perceive value in hopping borders for a diverse education.

The Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) released a report in 2014 stating that student and family perspectives on international education would desperately have to change if Canada is to survive among global markets in the near future.

We live in a post-secondary society that does not value an international education.

Both of my parents were raised during the ‘70s, in more or less quiet and conventional homesteads; a time when the world was not as globalized nor was it as easy to hop a plane and explore the world. Travel was seen as a distant luxury, not a financial priority. To this day, my parents enjoy the safety net of their own home, like many people of their generation do. When travel is an actual option, it can require extensive planning and even mental preparation.

Moreover, these perspectives are clearly reflected in Canadian university culture: there’s an increasing number of international students studying in Canada, while only three percent of Canadian students go abroad — a percentage that, according to CBIE, will need to increase five times over.

We live in a post-secondary society that does not value an international education. The fact that schools such as SFU are so culturally diverse creates the illusion that an ‘international experience’ is right at our doorstep, as Yuen Pau Woo, former president and CEO of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, explained to The Globe and Mail. Why move away when other cultures are moving here?

For more perspective, an article in The Globe and Mail from 2014 stated that while Australia is shelling out $100 million to send students to nearby Asia-Pacific countries, the United States has planned to increase its percentage of overseas students to 20 percent. Meanwhile, Germany wants to send away 50 percent of its students.

What does this mean for Canada? It means that SFU and other universities should be setting aside considerable funds for outgoing students, big time.

Given the idea that global forces will very soon affect all career paths, I think the time has come for us to finally shift our collective mindsets on the merits of global study. Let’s not cloud ourselves with ideas that a global experience will come to us; instead, let’s prioritize funding that will create the most important opportunities for careers in a globalized world.

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