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Ryerson International student Josephine Tse visiting Cambodia.

With study-abroad opportunities that range from a 15th-century castle in Britain to field trips to China, students gain valuable academic experiences and globally marketable skills

Reading literature within the storied walls of an British castle. Studying art history in the Gothic churches of Italy. Excavating ancient artifacts on an archeological dig in Israel.

For Canadian students enrolled in studyabroad programs offered through their university, the world is their oyster.

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But pearls of wisdom are not the only treasures offered up by international programs.

Enhanced academic experience, increased self-reliance, a broadening of perspective, becoming a citizen of the world – these are some of the reasons Canadian students cite for why they chose to spend even a small portion of their postsecondary experience studying abroad.

Broader horizons

"Participation in academically related international experiences expands students' academic horizons," says David Begg, coordinator of international engagement at Ryerson International, the study-abroad program at Toronto's Ryerson University.

"Students are also exposed to new approaches and methodologies within their field by study or activity in a different format."

Study-abroad programs also help promote proficiencies in foreign languages and a global network of contacts important for today's increasingly borderless job market.

It's why they are increasingly popular among today's student body.

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According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), 97 per cent of Canadian universities offer education abroad programs.

But despite the benefits, only about 3.1 per cent of full-time Canadian undergraduate university students participate in studyabroad programs annually.

In this regard, Canadian students lag behind their international counterparts.

By comparison, 30 per cent of German students, 10 per cent of U.S. students and 13 per cent of Australian students go abroad at some point during their degree, reports CBIE in its latest 2015 report.

The top barrier to participation for Canadian students is financial, the bureau says.

To help ease the burden, Ryerson offers its students a variety of incentives.

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Ryerson offers financial support, such as a $1,000 award for some students undertaking unpaid internships or placements abroad annually, among other funding opportunities.

"Ryerson invests in these activities because of the wide range of benefits that accrue to both the students undertaking international experiential learning activity directly, and the benefits that globally engaged graduates bring to our society more broadly," Mr. Begg says.

The university has bilateral exchange partnerships allowing students to study without paying additional tuition fees in many countries, ranging from Australia and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere to several countries in Europe and Asia, as well as destinations in India.

Students typically go abroad for one term, but many opt for a full academic year.

They also have the option to work abroad through a placement or internship as part of their academic program. The majority are from Ryerson's School of Early Childhood Studies.

Students can also accompany faculty on experiential learning trips, such as architecture and business management students who visited China.

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'Critical' global perspectives

The University of Alberta has had 2,300 students participating in its education-abroad programs during the past two academic years, says Doug Weir, executive director of student programs and services for University of Alberta International.

The university has formal partnership agreements with institutions around the world.

UAlberta offers students flexibility in choosing an international program that best suits their needs.

Exchange programs allow students to attend a partner institution – an option that has been available for decades – for either a fall or winter semester, or for an entire academic year. Students then choose courses with the intent of receiving transfer credits toward their UAlberta degree.

As well, there are short, intensive programs that focus on a specific topic area and may include coursework, seminars or language courses.

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The short-term study programs typically last three weeks during the summer months.

The University of Alberta also offers the e3 program, which allows students to combine language study, international work experience and academic coursework in one summer program. There are currently three locations: Curitiba, Brazil; Berlin, Germany and Washington, D.C.

Internships provide students with practical research or work experience placements with companies or organizations abroad.

Internship placements vary in length, but can range from two to eight months. Students can participate at any time during the year.

"Education abroad experiences provide students with opportunity to enhance international competencies, become more mindful and knowledgeable about their role as global citizens, and graduate confident in their skills to advance themselves socially and professionally in intercultural contexts," Mr. Weir says.

"Given Canada's diversity and the increasingly interconnected world into which our students will graduate, these are critical perspectives and skills for success."

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Skills for a global market

Katherine O'Brien, associate vice-principal (international) at Queen's University in Kingston, also believes that international exchange or study-abroad programs give Canadian students an edge when it comes to entering the job market.

"The intercultural benefits and learning provide our students with lasting knowledge and interpersonal skills that benefit students when they go on to future education or work experiences," Ms. O'Brien says.

"An international experience often provides an environment for self-discovery, empathy and a realization of a student's own resilience."

Queen's has formalized partnerships with institutions around the world. In addition, Queen's has a study-abroad campus, the Bader International Study Centre (BISC), in East Sussex, England.

Situated in a 15th-century castle, the BISC offers Queen's students, and students from other universities around the world, the opportunity to study for a semester, a summer program or a full year of study.

About 500 undergraduate students participate in the university's international exchange program annually.

Queen's has exchange partnerships in more than 45 countries with about 175 partner universities. The exchange opportunities are available in a variety of programs within business, engineering and applied science, arts, science, education, law and policy studies, and in graduate programs.

The university also offers a variety of international study-abroad and field-school opportunities in specific programs. Among them is the Fudan-Queen's semester in Shanghai, the Kwansei Gakuin University Cross Cultural College, the Venice summer school in the department of art history and art conservation, the field studies in biology that range from Mexico to Tanzania, and the study-in-Cuba program.

"These programs are popular ways for students to gain international experience, often with the support and engagement of dedicated faculty members in a specific discipline," Ms. O'Brien says.

"Faculty members understand the benefits of an international education and often play a key role in encouraging students to study abroad at some point during their four years of study."

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