Social media brings the world to students and is encouraging them to go out and see the world.
“Once classmates see and hear about what their friends are doing around the world, they want to get involved too,” said David Begg, Ryerson’s international engagement coordinator.
This year 212 Ryerson students are leaving Canada on international exchanges, which is the university’s highest number of outbound students to date.
“International experience and traveling is a hot topic for students right now,” said Begg.
The exchange program saw a 22 per cent increase in applications since the 2012-2013 school year, which previously had the highest number of outbound students.
Begg believes that students sharing their international experiences through social media have impacted the number of students wanting to travel.
Former exchange student Lisa Coxon used Facebook every day when she was on exchange in 2013. After posting photos, Coxon received many comments from her friends back home saying they were jealous and wanted to go where she was.
“People wanted to travel because of what they were seeing on my Facebook,” said the fourth-year journalism student. “The pictures I posted were different than the photos you can Google of the places… they gave an intimate and real portrayal of the countries.”
Coxon also kept a WordPress blog where she wrote about her experiences and posted pictures of the cities she went to.
“I was going to so many different places that it was easier to post updates than to keep telling the same story over and over to friends and family,” she said.
Ted Rogers School of Management exchange coordinator, Kristy Holzworth, agrees that social media influences the number of students going on exchange. In past years, she had between 20 and 30 students at her exchange information sessions.
In 2013, Holzworth started working with the TRSM marketing and communications departments to reach out to more students using social media. Since then, the number of students at the exchange information sessions has tripled.
“Social media is an effective tool to reach students early on and make them aware,” Holzwoth said. She starts informing students about international exchange opportunities in their first year at Ryerson because the exchanges require a lot of planning.
When Beza Getachew leaves for the Netherlands at the end of January on her exchange to Hogeschool Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, she plans to share her experience online through social media.
“I was born and raised in Toronto and have lived in Toronto my whole life,” Getachew said. “I haven’t lived away from home yet… this was the perfect opportunity to do that and learn about new countries and cultures.”
Going on exchange can enhance students’ degrees by giving them an education about the world outside the classroom, Begg said. It also adds a valuable experience to students’ resumes and expands their social network for future jobs.
“By engaging deeply with new cultures and understanding that people have different worldviews… you grow as a person,” he said. “You may not realize it while it’s happening, but when you get home and reflect, you’ve changed because you see the world in a different way.”
Since its first international exchange partnership in 1991 with Birmingham City University, formerly the University of Central England, Ryerson International has partnered with 127 institutions in 32 different countries.
“The more interest we receive from students wanting to go on exchange, the more universities we can partner with,” Begg said. “This is a trend we hope will continue.”
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on January 29, 2014.