Ryerson International is supporting the expansion of international destinations
My options for an exchange semester included several countries in Europe, several universities in Australia or Singapore. An opportunity that required me to empty my bank account to immerse myself in a different culture for five months didn’t give me the option to go to the part of the world I want to learn more about.
As a first generation Canadian, there is another culture in the world that I have a connection to and it’s one I’ve only experienced through my parents. Given that exchange is a serious time and money commitment I’m lucky to have been able to study abroad, and yet if I had more options, I would have chosen differently.
In October, Ryerson announced its first ever internationalization strategy. Internationalization — the process of making something international — is not just the intake of more international students, but also having Ryerson recognized in other countries.
The strategy includes five overarching pillars with goals of increasing the number of international students at Ryerson, expanding and diversifying the amount of international exchange programs for students and collaborating with universities abroad.
Global Learning manager Emma Wright, who oversees the section of Ryerson International that supports domestic students who want to go abroad, led the strategy on upcoming international opportunities.
One part of the internationalization strategy is expanding the opportunities available to the diverse Ryerson student population. Wright said semester-long exchanges that take students to European countries or Australia will always exist, but they want to add more programs to make studying abroad more accessible.
“The reason why we have this Eurocentric focus is because it’s a legacy of imperial and colonial relations that we tend to focus on. Countries or regions that share similar perspectives, have western perspective or a western perspective has been imposed,” Wright said.
Last year, the provincial government created Ontario’s International Postsecondary Education Strategy. This past August, the Minister of International Trade Diversification, Jim Carr, announced the federal government’s $150 million international education initiative.
The funding will provide outbound mobility for up to 11,000 college and university undergraduate students to study or work abroad. Half of the funds will go towards students who are underrepresented in international opportunities, such as people from low income backgrounds, students with disabilities and Indigenous students.
Wright said she sees that students have a desire to go somewhere they have a connection with. Expanding the destination for exchange would increase the range of students these opportunities appeal to.
“There is more and more demand for shorter opportunities, like a week or two because they’re often more accessible,” Wright said.
Over the past year, Global Learning at Ryerson has been able to help support new international study opportunities that are models for the types of expansion they’re working towards. Donisha Prendergast is an image arts student who organized a three week course that took place in Ghana, with professor Mark Campbell.
All four students who took part in the course identified as having a connection to the African diaspora. During the three weeks, the students created art, met with local leaders, collaborated with professors at the University of Cape Coast and took trips to local historical sites. All of these experiences were supplemented with readings from Campbell.
Prendergast said a pivotal learning moment on the trip was when the group visited the slave castles on Cape Coast and there was a different entrance fee for those who were Ghanaians and those who were not.
“The very reason why I am here is because my ancestors were enslaved and forced through these doors…this is my history,” she said. “It’s important to have these unnerving conversations.”
Being a part of a diaspora places people in a confusing middle ground in understanding their identity.
“As people who are born in the diaspora, it’s not easy for us to go back home and feel like we fit in. People who are home don’t understand why we feel so strongly about identifying with our homeland,” Prendergast said.
Another type of exchange Global Learning wants to support is one led by Yellowhead Institute. This past summer, six Indigenous students traveled to New Zealand to attend the largest conference for Indiengous Studies.
Studying abroad can create an environment where students are forced to explore their identity. Being in another country with a different culture allows a person to be reflective of themselves and their place in the world.
“It can often be a tumultuous experience,” said Wright, adding that she wants to make sure students have the support to work through some of the difficult questions that come up in these situations.
Part of Wright’s intention with the Global Learning framework was to try to answer the question, “How can we make sure that global learning is something that is meaningful and connects to students in different ways?”
The exchange program I chose was in Denmark and after my experience, it’s the only place other than Toronto I’ve ever called home. Though it is a western country with similar values to Canada, my brown skin, black hair and English capacity were points of confusion I found myself explaining often. I define myself as Filipino-Canadian, and yet the Philippines is somewhere I’ve only ever visited once in my life.
The strategy is still in its early stages. While the intention is to create diverse international options for the Ryerson population, only time will show if the strategy is impactful.