Escape Ryerson

In Communities /

By Mike Anthony

Many young people have adventurous ideas about seeing the world but have to finish school first.  Wouldn’t it be great to do both?

That’s what fourth-year Ryerson student Cecilia Lourenco did.  She spent the second semester of her second year at the Universita De Firenze in Florence , Italy studying international marketing, sociology and learning Italian.

“I had an amazing time.  There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my experience — not one day that I wish I wasn’t back in Europe,” said the 23-year-old business marketing major.

Before you go running off to the faculty office of your school to fill out forms, you have to consider all the planning involved.  Cost may be your biggest concern but it’s not as expensive as you might think.

“It’s like living away from home even if you’re not living in another country,” Lourenco said.  “You still have to pay for rent, food, and everything else.”

In her case, rent was expensive.  She paid $500 a month (utilities not included) for an apartment in Florence she shared with five people.

“It was worth it thought because I had a beautiful apartment with a beautiful view, “ she said.  Overall, including stops in England and France her experience cost more than $7,000.

Ryerson students who want to study abroad on exchange don’t have to pay extra tuition.  But students do have to pay for their own airfare, housing and other travel expenses.  Lourenco was fortunate she had only saved up and got some help from her parents.

It can also be less expensive than Canada.  If you study in Mexico, like 21-year-old Michelle Korson, your cost of living may be cheaper than in Canada.  The fourth-year hospitality and tourism management student stayed in a beach-front condo in Mazatlan for a mere $50 (US) a month.  But for a week out of her –month stay she lived without electricity.

“It was okay because we learned to live with only the bare essentials,” Korson said.  “My trip was worth it because I got a more global outlook — there were other international students where I was as well.”  Her trip cost her around $5,000 (US).

Many students interested in studying abroad don’t realize the amount of other planning needed, said Philip Shea, Ryerson’s coordinator of International Services for Students.  “Anyone planning an overseas trip needs at least a year,” he said.  “I have student coming to me in March who want to go away for the summer.  Well, that’s not enough time to prepare.”

Exchange students need more than money and time before they leave.  They also need to prepare mentally before leaving.  Jane Monro, director of student affairs for the school of business, thinks many students planning exchanges don’t realize the potential emotional impact dishes out.

Monro and colleague Valerie Sonstegard explain the four emotional stages students usually experience when travelling abroad:

  • The “honeymoon” stage: the euphoria of being in an exotic new place with new people,
  • The “culture shock” stag: feeling alone in a strange place with unfamiliar people,
  • The “reality check” stage: finally getting used to the culture and surroundings,
  • The “reentry” stage: returning home and missing the culture, your new friends and experiences.

“We had one student turn around and come right back,” Monro said last Friday at a dinner held for business and hospitality tourism management exchange students.  “We want you to have every skill before you travel abroad.”

That’s why International Services for Students works with the schools to organize workshops so exchange students who are going, have gone, or have come to Ryerson can compare notes and warn of potential snags in travelling*

Lourenco tells potential students of her exam snafu.  In Italy, the final exams are oral and professors expect students to dress formal, as if they were going for a job interview.  She went to her first exam (of three) in sweat pants and running shoes. “My professor looked at me from head to foot and made a face,” she said.

It’s sharing these experiences that can help other students prepare for their trips.

Shea said that besides cost and getting psyched to travel, there are a host of other things students should think about before going.

*To find out more about exchange programs at Ryerson, check out the Work/Study Abroad Fair, Tuesday Oct.6 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Also, visit the comprehensive website which includes links on how to raise money for exchanges, good student travel books, a pre-departure checklist, information for homosexual students and those with disabilities, just to name a few. 

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