President's student fund supports life-changing overseas experiences

- Tara Sharpe

Zhou (in front) at Pong Pi School, Thailand.

Maps of the world are still a familiar sight on dorm room walls, with pins marking the spots for overseas adventure and life-changing learning opportunities. Thanks to the four-year President's Beyond Borders Fund initiated in 2015 by UVic President Jamie Cassels, our students have visited even more points on the globe and journeyed deep into communities well beyond the borders of our campus. The initiative is one of several at UVic supporting coursework abroad, field schools and internships, student exchanges and volunteer services, and research and foreign work experiences.

This fund—which echoes key principles of the new UVic International Plan—helps support students of all backgrounds, including those who may not otherwise be able to participate, to advance their journeys beyond UVic as emerging global citizens.

The primary stream of this fund focuses on the Asia-Pacific region; the other two within the Beyond Borders initiative focus on placements within Canada, including for Indigenous community work opportunities. 

Read more about one student's Indigenous outreach co-op with Science Venture and another student's work term on community outreach with Pauquachin First Nation, both of whom were recipients of this fund.

Leading the edge of overseas student experiences

Since 2015, the fund has supported UVic students who have immersed themselves in work, cultural and life experiences in China and Malaysia, Japan and the Philippines. Read more about travelling overseas

One UVic student who recently benefited is Xinbei (“Kishi”) Zhou. A fifth-year economics student, Zhou travelled to Ayutthaya, Thailand last fall, to work as a human-resources co-op intern with Western Digital. During her five months there, she developed strategies to build strong relationships between local employees and international staff members, and also volunteered at local primary schools to promote intercultural awareness.

She even created a video about her experiences.

Zhou was born in Wuxi, near Shanghai in eastern China, transferring from Soochow University in September 2014 to finish her undergraduate degree at UVic. She says, “In most Asian countries, volunteer work is not as popular, I think.” In Thailand, during a presentation in front of 500 students of Suranaree University of Technology, she asked if anyone had done volunteer work. Only three had.

She wants to share her enthusiasm for volunteerism and education now with others. Her trip “made me really want to explore something more and not limit myself, and also to be open-minded, with a global mindset. And I feel it’s quite important for the younger generation to devote an effort to change education for the next generation too.”

Experiential learning and student mobility

The year before he launched the fund, UVic's president helped spearhead a university presidents' national panel on experiential learning and student mobility.

“In an era of ever-increasing globalization, student mobility is a key priority for me,” says Cassels. “As a young academic, I spent a substantial amount of research time overseas in India. Several years there allowed me to take a deep dive into another culture, learn from other traditions, examine my own misunderstandings and presuppositions, and develop my field of study from an entirely different perspective.

“The knowledge and understanding I gained was invaluable, and this remains the most intellectually liberating experience I have ever had. For our students to have similar opportunities will vastly enrich their education and open up vistas and pathways they have never imagined. And equally importantly, will enrich our campus, our communities and the world.”

One of the first students to secure the funding was Damen Korkoras. In the final year of his master’s degree in global business, Korkoras travelled to Japan in fall 2015 to work as a planning and analytics intern for Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon in Tokyo. Born in Calgary and having moved to BC when he was 15, Korkoras had visited the Netherlands and Lima, Peru as part of the global business program in the Sardul S. Gill Graduate School in UVic’s Gustavson School of Business. But he had never been to Japan.

“Whether you’re an engineer, teacher or business executive, every line of work is now global,” he says. “This type [of international experience] takes off the training wheels.”

“And the world is changing at such a rapid pace—whether it’s robotics or currency, humanity is constantly being shocked by new news and most people aren’t just going to find themselves in only one country anymore either. It’ll be the norm in the years ahead and UVic, instead of shying away from this, embraces it.”

Korkoras started a YouTube channel called The Internationalist and he says his academic program “was a big inspiration for it.”

Other students have worked in an array of placements in the Asia-Pacific region including hospital and hostel settings and in humanitarian affairs and intellectual property law. Emma Baker, a fifth-year student in UVic’s School of Exercise Science, Health and Physical Education, was in San Filipe, Philippines last spring for a co-op term at the Circle Hostel Zambales, four hours northwest of Manila.

“It was a very small town and a surfers' community,” and she did learn to surf while there.

What she learned in the UVic classroom about program development helped prepare Baker for her international work placement: she covered two front-desk shifts—two hours in the morning, two in the early evening—then spent the rest of her work day organizing tours for hostel guests, directing them toward activities, developing new tour packages including assessments for risk management and pricing, and also planning and implementing a special library program at the hostel for book donations from guests to children in the area. She even started a compost and a garden project.

But one of her favourite memories—swimming with whale sharks in Southeast Luzon—comes from being on a tour herself. “It was amazing to swim near these huge gentle giants. At one point, it was just me and a shark swimming together for 10 feet. If I could have cried under water, I would have.”

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Keywords: international, scholarship, beyond borders, fund, asia, indigenous, student support

People: Jamie Cassels

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