She stood there, bicycle helmet in her hand, looked around and
fell in love. It was her first day on the job as an unpaid intern,
but she was in the London offices of Tiger Aspect Productions, the
British film and television production company that gave the world
the hit movie Billy Elliott - and
School student Catherine Sneddon was pretty sure she had found where
After six weeks of faxing, photocopying, fetching ice mocha coffees
for leading man James Nesbitt, and herding 40 extras into place
for a scene in an aerobics studio, she was certain she had found
what she wanted to do with her life.
"I got to skip ahead and see what it will be like for me in
the future," Sneddon, 18, said last spring, back in class at
her Oakville, Ontario school. Still wide-eyed about the work experience
she lined up for herself as part of her school's three-stage
external studies program, she's decided to take a three-year
television production course in Great Britain.
"I don't think school or university could have prepared
me for this," she says, then stops herself and smiles, because
it was precisely her school that showed her the way of her future.
Not many people would argue the homily about travel broadening
the mind. In countries such as South Africa and Australia, students
graduating from high school routinely experience what's known
as a "gap year" before starting university. They travel
abroad to work, perhaps as an au pair helper to a family or as volunteer
staff in a British school. Although this hasn't as yet caught
on in many Canadian public schools, private and independent schools
have long offered their students a variety of travel educational
Some schools travel and study abroad a centrepiece of the curriculum.
School has designed a successful and popular multi-faceted, multi-level
external studies program.
The process starts early at
Mandarin is a compulsory subject and classes stop for two weeks
every November when the school's S3 students, or Grade 10,
experience an overseas exchange program. By S5, or Grade 12, the
school has earmarked 220 hours of school time - or two uninterrupted
months - for students to participate in a variety of opportunities,
including working as teaching assistants in two Beijing schools.
"We want to offer something not easily replicated as a family
vacation," says Judy Ross, director of the school's external
"I think we're the only school who've got it in
steps in really formulated programs," she says. "Nobody
has it quite on the scale we do."
The Canadian College Italy (
CCI: The Renaissance School) is Canada's
only high school located in Italy itself, in this case in a medieval
town of 40,000 three hours east of Rome. And, since 1956,
Junior College in Switzerland has been a popular destination for
students, especially those completing their final year of high school.
It is the oldest Canadian high school in Europe; it is also non-profit.
"The recent tensions globally mean it's more important
than ever to move forward," says Neuchatel principal
Norman Southward. "People tend to cocoon themselves in times
of tension, which leads to a lack of understanding when what is
needed is a greater understanding of what it means to be in an increasingly
Then he adds: "It doesn't get much safer than Switzerland."
Nevertheless, Maeve Gamble, 19, from Sarnia, Ontario, was "terrified"
when she left for her year at Neuchatel, especially when she
walked into the Toronto Pearson International Airport and saw what
she thought were 90 other students chatting away with each other
like long-lost friends. She was comforted when she realized no one
else knew each other, and that morphed into a feeling of excitement
when they landed in Zurich and drove to the school. "The country
was so cute and clean, typical Swiss. Red and white shutters, flowers
in pots. It was so beautiful," she says. Her year at Neuchatel
has been "like a dream," she says, what with a bike trip
to Germany and school excursions to Burgundy and Paris. "I
definitely feel more cultured."
Suzan Handley's globetrotting family was living in Belgium
when she left for
But she, too, was anticipating spending her school year in Switzerland.
"When we first got here and got off the bus, I felt a definite
excitement," Handley, 19, says in a phone interview from Switzerland.
"It looked different and the air smelled different."
Simon Anderson's parents both attended
Junior College in
1969. "They met here," the 18-year-old says. "It's
kind of amusing."
It was also kind of inevitable he would spend a year there as well.
He's not complaining. "I have learned how much there is
out there and how different it is from North America," he says.
Not only is he a convert to the cafe society and the European
custom of two-hour lunches, he says he also appreciated the opportunity
to watch televised coverage of the American-led war on Iraq from
a European news media perspective.
And that is typical and palpable, Southward says. "When they
are travelling and interacting with their pension families, they
see the differences, even if sometimes it's only the nuances."
That is why
CCI: The Renaissance School accommodates its 120 students
in one of four family-style residences in Lanciano, Italy, creating
what is in effect a house system and a secure place from which the
students can explore the culture all around them, as well as maintain
ther rigorous study schedules.
"There is a very close connection between the town of Lanciano
and Canada; it was liberated by Canadians," says Lou Zeppieri,
a Toronto-based admissions officer for the school. The school itself
is a former monastery, which was used as a hospital during the First
World War for wounded Canadian soldiers.
"Old men approached me on the street to tell me how (the liberation)
affected them," says former student Gillian German. "You
can't help but have your eyes opened."