The University of Toronto provides students with a plethora of unique and interesting learning opportunities, many of which can quite literally be considered ‘once in a lifetime.’ One learning opportunity I unfortunately never pursued during my time as an undergraduate student was some international study with one of the U of T’s many study abroad opportunities. (Arts & Science students should also check the International Programs and Partnerships website for more opportunities.) I am, however, aware of how studying abroad can enhance a student’s overall undergraduate experience and in order to demonstrate this I have endeavoured to conduct two brief interviews with students who have done some study abroad – the first of which I have transcribed for you below.
The below interview is with second-year student Benjamin Pan who studied abroad in Hong Kong last summer. My questions are in bold and his answers follow subsequently. I would like to thank Benjamin for sharing his international experience with me – and with all of you.
Benjamin is a 2nd Year Trinity College student studying Economics and Political Science. He went to Hong Kong last summer as a part of the university’s Summer Abroad Program.
Why did you endeavour to Study Abroad and why did you pick the location/program that you did?
Studying abroad was a proverbial “no-brainer” — something that was almost an integral part of what I viewed to be the university experience. A few of my friends elected to take one year off between secondary and post-secondary schooling to travel (I did not), and while one measly month abroad is not equivalent to this, the motivation is all the same. I had travelled in the past and hopefully will have the opportunity to in the future as well, and yet it seems there’s something tangibly different about actually studying in a foreign country among a group of one’s peers. It’s a wholly different experience, and this is the one time we can experience it! I had visited Hong Kong previously, albeit only for a few days, and rather quickly decided I quite liked the unique city. Summer abroad was an excellent opportunity to more fully explore it, and to perhaps even glimpse at what living there is like. Of course with such a wide variety of programs and locales available to the prospective student, narrowing it down to just one is no easy task. For myself then, it in the end all boiled down to me being at least somewhat familiar with the location (enough to pique my interest and curiosity), and the fact that a friend decided on Hong Kong as well for roughly the same reasoning.
What has your international experience meant to you?
I usually find it difficult to say exactly what impact or meaning singular experiences have had, and this is true for my time in the Summer Abroad program as well. I suspect the usual response to this question would be something along the lines of “seeing new things and meeting new people,” though I have to say this is also undeniably true for me. Socializing is always fun, but socializing while exploring a faraway corner of the world and an entirely different culture is possibly the best way to do so! I haven’t known those I met while in Hong Kong for a particularly long time, and yet because of our shared experiences there, I feel as if I have. And of course, the mere fact of travelling to a faraway destination is something in and of itself. Beyond this though, my time abroad has immensely affected my appreciation and love for travelling and studying abroad. I admit that may sound a tad contrived, but nonetheless it is true.
Would you recommend other students pursue the opportunity to study abroad?
You’ve probably already noticed I am quite the fan of the program. Again, I view it as an opportunity not to be missed, as it is something uniquely special. I get that not everyone might have the opportunity to do so, be it because of scheduling or financial reasons (though I’d be remiss not to mention that there is financial aid available). If the stairs do align and you have the chance to, you should without a doubt seize it.
It only gets trickier if you’ve already done a program abroad (Summer Abroad or perhaps another program). I find myself caught in the same dilemma this year, as a matter of fact – whether to do another or not. As a student of economics, I’d reason that the marginal utility of another trip ought to be less than the first. Despite this though, I feel as if each experience and each trip is something wholly special, and as such I cannot settle until I’ve done them all. Alas this certainly isn’t possible, but nonetheless perhaps I, or anyone else in my situation, should go for at least one more!
What advice would you give students who are considering the study abroad program?
Give careful consideration to the questions of “where” and “who.”
“Where” is straightforward enough – where do you want to visit? In my humble opinion, however, it shouldn’t be considered in the same manner as you deciding where your next vacation will be. One hypothetical thought: perhaps choose a place you otherwise wouldn’t (and may never) visit as a vacation destination! Think about the actual programs and courses themselves, and evaluate what you believe you might gain from each trip. Attending the info sessions is a great way to start this search.
“Who” is simple enough as well — who do you want to go with? There, of course, is nothing wrong with doing a trip alone; as I’ve said the Summer Abroad program is absolutely one of the best ways to meet new people. Yet there is something to be said for having a friend or companion along for what will assuredly be a remarkable ride.