STU eyeing new exchange program

St. Thomas University may have another international exchange opportunity next school year.

STU is looking to finalize an exchange program with Middle Eastern Technical University, a top-ranked university in Ankara, Turkey. This exchange will add to the 10 existing programs in places like Australia, Argentina, Chile, Japan, Korea, Sweden and Texas, along with a study abroad option in Italy.

“METU is known for its engineering and technical departments, along with the sciences, sociology, psychology, history, political science and international relations,” said Dr. Besim Can Zirh, a METU sociology professor (visiting St. Thomas?). “Students will do their exchange in the social sciences.”

Zirh said the exchange program at METU will be STU’s first international study opportunity with a school in Turkey. He recalled studying abroad at almost every stage of his academic career.

“Exchanges help students understand the political, social and cultural differences around the world,” he said. “This one at METU has something to offer for people interested in that part of the world, and it will help provide mobility among students.”

For five years, STU had a relationship with an Ontario-based program called Intercordia, where students could live with host families and work in countries like Rwanda, Ukraine and the Dominican Republic, among others, during the summer.

STU terminated that relationship last year, and a letter from STU President Dawn Russell to Intercordia cited financial difficulties.

But what sets the METU exchange opportunity apart from others is the chance political science and international relations students will have to interact with Turkish government institutions, Zirh said.

“Culturally, Turkey is seen as a place where East and West meet,” he said. “It’s located in a capital, so people interested in international relations or global politics can see how government and NGOs work in Turkey.”

Zirh said higher education in Turkey has become more internationalized over the past decade, and some students want to study in a destination that isn’t seen as high profile or as exotic as most of Europe is.

“It’s an opportunity for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to visit Turkey.”

Brandon Flynn, a third-year STU political science student, is studying in Sweden this semester.

“Of course, I was worried about making friends and whether I would regret this six-month trip,” he said. “But things naturally started to fit into place.”

Flynn said he has met many people from all around the world, and the language barrier hasn’t been as big a problem as he anticipated.

“Everyone will begin to speak to you in Swedish, and I’ll respond, ‘Sorry?’” he said. “They’ll immediately switch to English.”

He said jetlag and adjusting to the time difference between Canada and Sweden were challenges at first, but after the initial adjustment the experience has been eye-opening.

“Europe had always seemed like a magical fantasy land that doesn’t really exist. We just hear the funny voices on the BBC, and that’s all there is to it.”

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