By Ry Clarke - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on February 11, 2023.
The University of Lethbridge is working to give its students more possibilities when it comes to their education.
By launching its Global Skills Opportunity project, the University is giving students more options for international learning while also giving those under-represented the chance to participate in these experiences.
Funded through the federal government, the program is designed to give students, especially those under-represented, the chance to go abroad and develop intercultural skills to enhance their education.
“It is a student mobility pilot program, that is funded by Employment and Social Development Canada, administered by Universities Canada and Colleges and Institutes Canada,” said Gizelle Tiponut, Education Abroad Coordinator with Ulethbridge International.
“The program initially started back in 2019 when the Government of Canada created a fund for research to find out barriers of participation in international education of the underrepresented groups of students. We collected findings, running the research in 2020, and it showed that 75 per cent of our students named lack of funding as their major barrier that keeps them from studying abroad.”
Tiponut notes travel expenses add up on international programs with flights, insurance, accommodations, and exchange rates fluctuating.
Funding for the Global Skills program is based on the length of stay and if the student applying qualifies as underrepresented. Students can receive up to $10,000 for an in-person experience abroad.
“Students in our target group can receive up to $10,000 to offset the cost of a full semester exchange, while students going for four or five months can get up to $5,000 if they are going for a short term experience. We also have an amount for non-target students as well. They are eligible to apply but the amount is half of what an underrepresented student would get,” said Tiponut.
The first Indigenous group will travel to Mexico in May for an opportunity to learn Mayan culture taking part in festivals, dances, food, while also sharing their own Indigenous culture with Mayan students.
“Twenty of them are going – the program is bridging Indigenous cultures between Canada and Mexico,” said Tiponut. “They will attend Spanish classes, cultural courses or lectures, and they will also witness and participate in cultural actives, and visit Mayan communities. They will also be sharing their own cultures, talking about Indigenous cultures here and get to compare notes.”
International studies give more opportunities to students, including immersing themselves in a new environment and culture. “My favourite part of my job is when students return from the exchange and share their experience. They tell me – especially the ones who are open-minded and observant – how much they learned about the world. They get the sense of the dominant values, the politics, and cultural traits. They come back and they are able to examine their own culture from a whole new perspective. Many of our students learn new language skills, either they start to pick it up or they build up existing levels.” said Tiponut.
“If I have to say why it’s important for students to experience a different culture, it’s a simple answer: for their future. Businesses nowadays are buying goods and services from all over the world, and they need employees who can work effectively, either online or in person, with partners and colleagues abroad.”
Giving opportunities to students to travel and broaden their horizons, the Global Skills Program connects cultures across the global, while also enhancing education.
“I wish every student could travel abroad and be given this opportunity, because they would have more understanding of their own culture in the global context,” said Tiponut. “They become more aware of different values and beliefs, it is like a window into another perspective of doing things.”