In an increasingly globalized economy, study abroad programs can be your child’s passport to a brighter future. Every year, thousands of Canadian students leave the country to embark on enriching educational programs. Melissa Nisbet, Communications Manager at CBIE (Canadian Bureau for International Education) says demand for study abroad programs is steadily increasing. “Studying abroad is not just about the curriculum, it’s also the soft skills you get,” says Nisbet. Fostering independence, improving communication and leadership skills in addition to introducing students to more options for their future are just some of the benefits students receive from studying in a new environment.
This is the most common type of study abroad program. All classes are conducted in an educational institution abroad and students live and study as though they were relocated to that country and receive high school credits towards their secondary school diploma.
Spending an academic year abroad is not a new educational concept. Since 1956, Neuchâtel Junior College in Switzerland has been a popular destination for students completing their final year of high school. It is the oldest Canadian high school in Europe; it is also non-profit, and has been a top choice for generations of Canadians. Simon Anderson's parents both attended Neuchâtel Junior College in 1969. "They met here," he says. "It's kind of amusing."
It's no surprise that Simon decided to spend a year there as well. "I have learned how much there is out there and how different it is from North America," he says.
These programs typically last three weeks to two months, offering students the cultural enrichment experience of studying abroad (for instance, in Poland) while ensuring they continue to learn over the summer months. Students have the opportunity to complete a course over the summer that they would normally take during the school year or study a subject of personal interest that their home high school doesn’t offer.
These programs can take place over a reading week or during the summer and allow students to immerse themselves in a foreign language, with a focus on improving their fluency.
These programs typically take place over March Break, reading week or the summer. Students work alongside local NGOs and participate in community service projects, developing a well-rounded portfolio of service work to complement their academic achievements. Volunteer programs help foster a global awareness and many allow students to earn their community service requirement for their secondary school diploma. Students in these programs may participate in building houses, volunteering in schools, helping out at animal rescue centers or working on environmental conservation projects.
Jennifer White is the Vice President of Marketing at Blyth Academy, a private school with locations in London, Ottawa and across the GTA that sends approximately 1,200 students per year on study abroad experiences and says studying abroad has a host of benefits beyond simply the coursework. In addition to broadening students’ horizons, study abroad programs ensure students continue to learn over the summer holidays and during winter and spring breaks. A study at John Hopkins University found children who continue to learn over the summer break perform better during the school year, retain more of their lessons and require less time for review in the new school year. White says Blyth Academy has seen improvements in the grades of students who study abroad. “We also find these students are reinvigorated to learn and travel has made a profound impact on how they want to proceed with post-secondary education,” she says. Many students return with the desire to attend international post-secondary institutions.
Studying abroad at a school like Kilgraston School, in the United Kingdom gives students an opportunity to participate in educational opportunities on the global stage. Recently six young women had an amazing opportunity to participate in global politics. The Kilgraston Action Group were runners up in the prestigious British Red Cross Justice and Fairness Competition for their International Humanitarian Law and Child Soldiers Action Project, which focused on child soldiers in conflicts around the world.
The thirteen and fourteen-year-olds presented their ongoing project to Baroness Warsi, Senior Minister of State and Minister for Faith and Communities. “Reflecting back on the whole trip, I realise my view on a lot of things has changed. I now know that politicians can be down to earth and real. I’m now considering a career in International Humanitarian Law after seeing that, although we’ve worked hard, these issues are far from being resolved,” said Phoebe R, one of the six team members.
Parents report students who have studied abroad have a willingness to do more for themselves and others, are better prepared for university and living on their own, get along with new groups of people and are more independent as a result of their time spent studying abroad. Getting outside of their immediate social group and meeting new friends from different cultures helps to improve students’ social skills, while the community service component of programs in developing countries instill in students a greater sense of gratitude for the country they live in and the opportunities they’ve been given.
With so many study abroad options and countries to choose from, finding the right study abroad program for your child can be a challenge. Scott Baird, Marketing and Student Recruitment Manager at YES Canada, says many Canadian students with international roots focus on the location of study abroad programs as an opportunity to explore their cultural heritage.
Other students may select a program based on course opportunities. White speaks of a Blyth Academy program in Costa Rica where students can receive a biology credit as they explore the ecological and biological diversity of the Monteverde Cloud Forest.
Others select a program based on personal interest. A student with an interest in art may opt for a study abroad program in Rome where they can have the opportunity to admire the architectural wonders of the old world.
Deciding on the length of the program will depend on how emotionally and mentally prepared the child is to spend time away from home. Parents who are concerned with their child’s ability to thrive on their own may opt for a shorter program rather than a full academic year abroad.
Application processes vary depending on the study abroad program. Students who want to take a credit course abroad must have the prerequisite for the course they want to attend. Transcripts are reviewed to ensure the student has the academic capacity to complete the course. “The program is quite rigorous academically,” says White, as these immersive academic experiences are condensed into a short amount of time. “You don’t want anyone struggling [with academic performance] while they’re away,” says White. For this reason, many study abroad programs require a B average to be considered. Most volunteer programs don’t require a review of transcripts, but do consider the adaptability of the student to a new culture.
The cost of study abroad programs varies depending on the country and length of program. Some programs, such as YES Canada, offer hosting scholarships in which Canadian families who are willing to host an incoming exchange student can receive a maximum of $3,500 toward their child’s study abroad experience.