Op-Ed: Why you should study abroad with UNB

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Everyone has had those panicked airport moments when the crowd is rushing around you, trying to get to their gate, whizzing past you to get through security, and it seems like, at that moment, everything is moving at quadruple the speed it should be.  

Taylor Fennelly/Submitted

No? Just me? 

I am, or rather was, a newbie to travelling within Canada, so the thought alone of travelling across the Atlantic Ocean was terrifying. However, something inside me still yearned to travel and explore places I had never been to. 

There has always been something intriguing about the prospect of studying abroad. After years of COVID and endless isolation, seeing a UNB SharePoint site advertising a program called STEP (Summer Term in Europe), I knew I had to find out more. 

Sheer curiosity compelling me, I clicked on the site to read on, and excitement built in me as I learned more. 

What is STEP?

Maynooth University International Summer Students (Taylor Fennelly/Submitted)

The STEP Program is a student-focused mobility program operating during the summer months

that is funded by the Government of Canada.

This program focuses on equity, ensuring all students can gain international experience throughout their university studies. 

It also places priority on students registered with the accessibility center and is also in place to help students who may identify cost as a barrier preventing travel to Europe. Through STEP, receiving up to $6,000 in funding may be possible. 

Taylor Fennelly/Submitted

STEP hosts students spending two to four weeks studying abroad at select destinations and partnering universities in Europe for the Summer of 2023 and 2024.

The program is developed and rolled out, aimed primarily at inexperienced travelers. The STEP program provides ample support to students and delivers plenty of activities, exercises, and meetings to help them plan and prepare for all aspects of a trip abroad. 

From missing your plane, losing luggage, getting lost at your destination, or forgetting your passport on the way home, the STEP advisors and coordinators ensure that students have a well-stocked “tool-kit” for emergency preparedness. 

Once abroad, partnering universities provide all the necessary services to ensure the experience runs smoothly and successfully. Universities offer plenty of accommodations, such as airport pick-up and pre-arranged housing. 

A social program is offered at all partnering universities, and depending on the destination, some add meal plans, laundry, etc. 

Where you can study abroad

Taylor Fennelly/submitted

Information about each partnering university, how to apply, and the specifics of the application process are available on the UNB STEP Sharepoint site. Travel destinations include Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Austria. 

Students first should research each destination and then select their top three most desired destinations. During the semester abroad over the summer, participating students take 1 – 2 courses. These courses are approved by UNB’s academic advisors to count for credit toward a UNB degree. 

While abroad, students will be privileged to study with other students from all over the world. In many cases, field trips are involved in your classes, giving you both an academic experience and exploring opportunities. 

Often, there are also extra optional weekend outings organized by the partnering university to neighbouring places. This bonus is provided to students to allow them to see the world and explore life outside of Canada safely, prepared and aware. In destination, students can investigate their interests in structured surroundings and with a local guide. 

Why you should consider applying for STEP

Taylor Fennelly/Submitted

Personal reasons aside, the STEP program not only prepares students with the skills required to spend an extended time traveling internationally, but the coordinators also ensure participants build connections and communicate throughout the entire process leading up to the departure day. 

STEP leaders ensure you aren’t stranded at the airport by yourself, frantically searching for your gate, which was a life-saving bonus for me. The STEP program also allows you to move beyond your comfort zones in more ways than one. 

Sure, you are living in another country, and all the inclusionary benefits of getting to experience different teaching styles, educational methods, campus life, and so on are significant. Still, there is a multitude of personal growth that comes with this experience aside from exploring and checking off bucket list goals. 

Students gain cultural awareness and appreciation for their home culture and aspects of new and diverse ways of approaching the world. Students are also handed a big load of responsibility abroad, as they must be adaptable, independent, aware, prepared, and emotionally and culturally sensitive while in a new location. Students are also taught to have and use their coping skills. 

Academically, the abroad courses focus primarily on transferrable and technical skills such as public speaking, analytical thinking, and problem-solving.

Taylor Fennelly/Submitted

Research the STEP destinations and the courses offered at each STEP partner university. There are live and pre-recorded information sessions online on the STEP website. Students will also be able to read profiles of previous students who studied abroad in the Summer of 2022. 

Once you have submitted your interest application, you will receive further instructions on the next steps. For questions, please contact step@unb.ca or schedule a Microsoft Teams meeting with the Saint John STEP manager. The deadline to apply if February 6. 

Testimonials

Taylor Fennelly/Submitted

One of the best aspects of my experience traveling abroad was having an authentic Irish experience. Talking to locals and going to pubs, restaurants, and places in Ireland was the most fun part of the trip.

I started becoming friends with people worldwide, and those connections will stay with me far beyond this program. I’m still in touch with the new people and spend time with those in New Brunswick. 

For me, experiencing the different types of lifestyles and different ways of living was eye-opening and the most simple but unexpected difference within cultures. Even though I was in a place that I thought wouldn’t be very difficult to adapt to, stark changes in architecture, history, and politics underlined most things that surprised me. 

My favourite memories of the trip are the cliffs of Moher, Trinity College, and the museums. On trips to Dublin with friends, we went to old bookstores and hidden record stores, drank lots of beer (of course), and explored ancient castles. 

I built an unexpected appreciation for my own country and hometown and developed a newfound awareness of my overall privilege in life. I found myself planning future trips back. I realized that I am much more independent than I gave myself credit for and learned that Europe has more walking than I planned. 

I advise prospective participants that sometimes risk can be a good thing. I also discovered that currency exchange while you are in Europe is complicated to get. Therefore, it’s always better to plan. 

I’m eternally grateful for this opportunity; without the support of the STEP program, I would never have been able to have such a life-changing experience that has taught me an immeasurable amount of life experience. 

Sophie Watson, another STEP participant from UNBSJ who attended Graz University, shared that she took advantage of the opportunity to go abroad “because I love travelling and learning about foreign countries. Another major reason was to leave my comfort zone to become more independent. I needed to know I could stand alone, so I put myself to the test!”

Taylor Fennelly/Submitted

She credits the support of the program with allowing her to experience new and intimidating things within a safe environment. 

Watson said that her “self-confidence in social situations and academia was very poor before taking part in the STEP program. I was unwilling to challenge myself as an individual or student, and I assumed that any attempts to improve this would fail. Under the pressure of Summer School, I had no choice but to try my best to network and contribute to class discussions. After the initial panic, I found it easier to make friends and apply myself than expected.” 

Watson learned to be forthcoming in ways she had never been before, and she found acceptance of my insecurities among the other students participating:

“I was given a chance to voice my opinions and reach out to others under the community of the summer school. I discovered my social and academic limitations and had to adjust my schedule accordingly to accommodate my needs. Although it was not always enjoyable and sometimes stressful, I feel proud of recognizing my abilities. I am now more knowledgeable about the person I am and less anxious about sharing myself with others. This experience is something that requires motivation to work academically as well as personally. It is an amazing opportunity to find yourself in a context where you are put into these unique and challenging situations that demand you to decide who you are and how you interact with the world. My advice for successful future students is to accept every experience, good or bad. Both situations will be beneficial for your personal growth. Do not let the fear of failure deter you from this experience because you can do much more than you realize. Once you feel comfortable being yourself in a new environment, you will be able to learn and grow as a person as you experience so many things that you might not have had the chance to otherwise.”