Seminars help students abroad

Jun 12, 2003, vol. 27, no. 4
By Stuard Colcleugh



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Amber Vint was puzzled. A few weeks into a two-month European vacation last summer, her mood shifted from euphoria with all her new travelling experiences to occasional feelings of discontent, anxiety and longing for family and friends back home.

“I know now that it was just normal culture shock and not something wrong with me,” says the SFU third-year English major, one of about 20 participants in a recent student exchange seminar conducted by SFU international along with health counselling and career services.

The required half-day seminars are held every October and April to inform outbound SFU exchange and co-op students about some of the hazards they may run into abroad and to provide them with strategies to minimize potential difficulties.

“We like to get them two semesters prior to their departures,” says seminar director Daria Hucal (above), SFU international's student exchange programs coordinator. That gives students plenty of time “to start shopping around for airline tickets and figuring out what their travel plans will be,” she says.

In addition to culture shock, the seminars cover topics including health insurance, immunizations, flights and airfare, travel health and safety, legal and immigration issues, banking and finance, and administrative details like transfer credits and course approvals. Students also get a manual to take with them.

“I particularly enjoyed the part when former exchange students came in and talked about their experiences,” says Vint, who will be attending the University of Sussex in Brighton, England for nine months beginning next September. “They gave us some great tips, plus there was lots of time to ask questions.”

Hucal, a former exchange student herself, appreciates the suggestion that her seminars are a big part of the reason SFU exchange students are so well received overseas, as evidenced by the letters she receives from partner institutions. But she says other factors are probably more important.

“Canadian students are just much more willing to be independent than other students,” she says. “And SFU students are particularly well prepared, academically and otherwise. Once they've settled in their host country, they almost always want to stay away longer than planned.”

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