Monthly Archives: August 2010

Studying abroad can benefit your education, your career and most importantly – yourself.

This article was published in The Canadian Jewish News. and posted on TalentEgg’s online magazine, The Career Incubator.

When I decided to study abroad last year, I knew that the decision would open new doors for me, academically and personally. But I never really imagined the impact it might have on my life.

As a third year student at the University of McGill, I knew that although I loved Montreal and the educational institute I was in, I needed a change. I felt that to truly benefit my education, it would be in my own best interest to take time to learn things from a different perspective – a new perspective.

As a political science student, I focused on international relations and my search for an exciting place to study led me to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. With a fantastic reputation and great incentives, I completed the long application form with just a couple months to spare before the term began. In early December, I received my acceptance letter, booked a flight to Israel, and left for a new experience.

Studying abroad is a new phenomenon among university students. A Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) study indicated that “91% of employers (interviewed) identified the importance of cultural and other benefits (from study abroad).” Learning a new language, living in a different culture, becoming more independent and self-sufficient are only a few of the skills students learn, and bring back, to their home university.

Abby Plener, an English Literature major at McGill University, spent a semester at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. “My semester abroad taught me a lot – probably more than I will ever realize or could even begin to process now,” she said. Employers and academics are remarking the importance of studying abroad in allowing students to have a well-rounded education.

Thevi Pather, Associate Director at Camosun College, said “After 15 years of work in International Education, it never ceases to amaze me when I see the profound changes that occur in a student after their return from a study abroad experience. Many leave our shores with nervous excitement, but very visible fear of the unknown. Most students return brimming with confidence, and ready to tackle the next big challenge in their young lives.”

Researchers are now even attributing an improved academic performance after students return to their home campus from studying abroad according to an in-depth analysis on study abroad headed by the Georgia Learning Outcome of Students Studying Abroad Research Initiative (GLOSSARI).

Eden Sagman, a McGill graduate who now works in the high-tech industry in Israel, where she spent a year studying abroad in 2008, said her program has helped her break into the business she always dreamed of working in. “Studying abroad enhanced my education. It opened my eyes to other perspectives about controversial issues,” she said. Learning about new cultures is key to a flourishing economy, which needs new ideas to breed entrepreneurship and start-up companies.

Although studying abroad has been seen as beneficial, it can be difficult to arrange. Picking a school, approving courses, planning a budget and often enduring a longer semester are all part of the difficulties of studying abroad. You can look forward to meeting with ten professors just to get one course approved, and once you return, you have to ensure all your information is received in a timely fashion. However, don’t let this bureaucracy hold you back. Studying abroad helped me realize so much about myself that I never would have discovered. I learned to be independent in a foreign country, navigate across cities and met incredible people along the way. And I know next semester, my education will have benefited because of it.

“While at UCT, I often got the question, ‘Why are you studying here? The universities are so much better in North America.’ In general, studying abroad made me reflect a lot on the degree to which Western countries have a monopoly over education – defining the standards of what is “good” education, how the university system should work, what we value in or educational institutions, and even the texts and authors we focus on,” Plener said.

There are so many other viewpoints out there – and studying abroad makes us question everything we’re learning, and helps us become better people. We learn to always strive to demand the best out of educations and ourselves.

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Choosing Cheese Toast

What makes a student choose cheese toast over home cooked meals? What makes a student leave her loving parents and choose to be on her own, in the middle of nowhere, to do her own laundry and shop for her own groceries?

Some parents might think they did something wrong if their child has to move to another province or country to attend school. Others might want their child to have life experiences and may encourage moving away for school. Every-time I board the train at Union station in Toronto, my parents get a little misty eyed and wonder why their daughter chose to attend school in another city. If a girl who has the most loving parents, the most supportive family can leave home for school, then surely there’s no hope left for anyone else?

I didn’t even think twice about leaving home – I assumed it was something everyone did. After high school, all my friends left for fascinating places – Europe, the Middle East, Vancouver and without thinking much about the decision, I thought I should have a ‘worldly’ experience as well so I decided to go to McGill, a great mix between campus life and city life. After living in Montreal for two years, I have never been happier. The ability to walk to the library in under three minutes puts a smile on my face – since at home,  it would be a 15 minute drive. I don’t have the luxuries I had at home – my mom does not come into Montreal once a month to help me cook or do my laundry or to give me advice on my “teenage drama” and if I don’t wake up for class, no one comes knocking on my door (I know I say I hate it when my mom does that, but it is pretty convenient). Is it the lack of luxury that us students love – a world in which we are solely responsible for ourselves – or is it the comfort that living on campus brings that draw us here?

There are so many things I question now that never even crossed my mind while I made the decision to attend McGill. I wonder if I will ever live at home again – who knows what I will be doing after I finish McGill? Perhaps I’ll work in Ottawa or maybe I’ll get married, relocating me to somewhere other than my childhood home. I never thought about the time that goes by – four years in the grand scheme of what will hopefully be a long and healthy life is not that much. But when I left for McGill my brothers were 9 and 11 and when I graduate they will be 13 and 15, a time when the last thing they want to do is hang out with their sister. I’m missing out on their awkward puberty stage and even though it means I don’t have to share zit cream with them, I also don’t get to witness their shyness around girls or watch their baseball games. I’m like the divorced parent they see once a month and on holidays, but I rarely bring gifts.

I’m not sure why I chose Montreal – maybe students just need to get away for a few years and it could have been Tokyo or Kingston, Ontario. Maybe the prestige of “America’s Harvard” attracted me. Or maybe it was my selfish desire to develop my own thoughts and my own perceptions about the world, no matter the cost. Or maybe, just maybe, leaving home is a part of growing up – and it would have happened eventually.

I was never one to resist a good piece of cheese toast.

Bake sales in a dog-eat-dog world

When I was ten, I spent a summer making horrible, overpriced lemonade and selling it to my friendly neighbours (my best customers were my parents). After a long hard day of work, (I was working a 2-4 pm workday), I would show my parents my hard-earned money, often making over twenty dollars in one day! I know this wouldn’t even buy me a bag of chips in today’s day and age, but ten years ago, I would happily count my quarters and consider myself a working businesswoman.

The days of making an easy twenty bucks from a lemonade or bake sale are, sadly, over. Today, my brothers spent three hours making delicious cupcakes (even with homemade icing!) and great lemonade. They spent about half an hour at the local plaza, where they only made a dollar, and another two hours at the park, where they made around fifteen dollars (four of which were mine).

Selling cupcakes isn’t as easy at is looks. In today’s world, we’re reluctant to try anything homemade – for fear some crazy person has gotten a hold of a batch or because the sugar content might be too high or maybe because even talking to strangers is such an unthinkable thing (I used to approach soccer moms and dads in the park, asking them to buy my lemonade but overcoming the fear of talking to someone your parents have trained you not to approach is practically impossible – not that I recommend buddying up to strangers).

Buying cupcakes from a kid and seeing their face light up doesn’t have the same appeal it used to. Can a kid’s freshly squeezed lemonade compete with Aroma’s ice cappuccino? Monopoly, folks.

I guess the only advice I can give my brothers – and other kids hoping to make a couple bucks this summer – is to get out there and fight. Whether its selling cupcakes or competing for a promotion, the work ethic is the same. And it starts at your homemade bake sale.

And hey, who can really resist the smell of a freshly baked chocolate cupcake?