On the other side of the country, UBC is determined to send 30 per cent of undergrads on international exchanges within two years, up from about 14 per cent now. “It’s our belief that we need to provide students with the opportunities to understand who we are in a global context, to understand their discipline in different places, to build their own international networks, to challenge themselves beyond their comfort zones and to experience who they are and how they see the world,” says Katherine Beaumont, director of UBC’s Go Global office.
But some practical concerns are preventing students from rushing to the airport. Often, they are afraid they will be left behind when they return from an overseas placement, and in the past, that was often the case. To ensure exchange students are able to graduate on time, universities sign agreements with foreign schools that mean the credits you accrue overseas count toward your degree back home. It can be a little trickier for students in applied programs like law and engineering, but that’s changing, too. The five courses Edgcumbe took at IIT, for instance, all counted toward his UBC degree; one even used the same textbook as the equivalent course back home.
Money – or, rather, the lack thereof – is another potential hurdle. Exchange students generally pay regular tuition to their home school, but they’re still expected to cover their flight and living expenses abroad. And though a federally commissioned report released in mid-August recommends funding 50,000 students each year to study abroad, federal grants are, as of now, virtually non-existent. (Compare that to Brazil, which in 2010 committed $2-billion to send 100,000 science students abroad over four years, all expenses paid, and recently earmarked an additional $2-billion to send 75,000 more.) The good news is that many universities try to defray at least some of the costs for study-abroad students. UBC offers grants of $1,000; Mount Allison will cover up to $5,000.
Edgcumbe (who is now in his second year of grad school, working on both a medical degree and a PhD in biomedical engineering) brushes aside such concerns. Sure, it will cost you, but an exchange will pay dividends later on. When he returned from his stint in India, he immediately landed a job with
Globalink, welcoming Indian exchange students to the UBC campus. When he got a phone call saying he’d landed a coveted interview at Stanford University – tantamount to being accepted into the school’s graduate program – the first thing the professor asked about was his Indian experience. Edgcumbe also received two hefty scholarships, one of them for emerging leaders, and was one of five students in the province to interview for the Rhodes scholarship.
“What it comes down to,” explains the future Dr. Edgcumbe, “is that there is very little opportunity cost and a tremendous opportunity gain.”
Two students' experiences
Engineering Physics, University of British Columbia, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, 2009
The pitch: “It’s an opportunity to arrive in a new place, to meet new people and to see how the same curriculum is delivered in a different country. It’s also an opportunity to travel, and there’s just so much more flexibility as a student than as an employee, because you’re going to be living there, as opposed to arriving there for two weeks. Beyond the 15 or 20 hours of classes you have to attend, you are the master of your own schedule.”
Highlight: “Staying for three days in an Indian family home in Jaipur with my classmate Utkarsh. We shared home-cooked meals, visited with many of his family members, went on a hike to the Choolgiri Jain Temple, and celebrated Holi with Utkarsh’s neighbours and extended family. Other travel highlights included a week-long trip through Rajasthan and a two-day desert camel safari near Jaisalmer with seven IIT exchange students. Of course, no trip to India is complete without attending an Indian wedding. It was a three-day event with 800 guests. That was a party to remember.”
Caveat: “It’s a very different teaching style in India. There’s a lot more talk-and-chalk: The teacher comes in, talks and writes on the board, then leaves.”