Travelling and volunteering abroad from STU

Eight students from STU will be making trips this summer

Maiko Tanabe – The Aquinian
Smith with her host family, wearing traditional clothing. (Courtesy Emily Smith)
Smith with her host family, wearing traditional clothing. (Courtesy Emily Smith)

Emily Smith, a third-year student at St. Thomas, spent three months in Ghana last summer. She was a teacher there, yet when she recalls the experience, she feels she learned more.

Last summer, St. Thomas University partnered with Intercordia Canada to send eight students to countries like Ghana, Swaziland and Bosania to give them an opportunity to experience the world outside of Canada. The students volunteered and worked with people there, while living with a host family.

Intercordia Canada is a non-profit organization that works with Canadian universities to send students overseas and give them a first-hand and engaged-learning opportunity.

“My experience was very eye-opening. The great thing about Intercordia is that… you really learn about yourself,” Smith said. “Intercordia doesn’t let you stand outside of what’s happening in the culture. It lets you become highly involved…and helps you learn a lot about everything in a different way.”

Last year was the first time St. Thomas partnered with Intercordia. St. Thomas continues the pilot with Intercordia Canada and will send a new group of eight students abroad this summer.

Larry Batt, Dean of Students and Registrar, said the program with Intercordia has worked well for students.

Students go to different countries for three months, live with a host family, work with local people and learn about them and its culture through the experience.

Daniela Guzman, a third-year student at St. Thomas, is one of the eight students going abroad. She heard a story about the program from one of her friends and decided to participate.

“It didn’t sound like one of those typical things, just going there and study kind of thing. I thought it was something different and decided to go.”

Thomas Parkhill, a religious studies professor and the director of interdisciplinary studies at STU, agrees that the experience would be something different and beneficial both for the students and the university.

“It would be good for all students who came to STU to participate in the program, but schools like St. Thomas could also benefit by sending a half of the students or 40 per cent of the students to do some kind of working abroad.”

The eight students haven’t started their travels yet, but they are already facing challenges financially. And now, they are organizing fundraisers to make their trip happen.

Children playing at the Anmchara International school, in Sega, Ghana. (Courtesy Emily Smith)
Children playing at the Anmchara International school, in Sega, Ghana. (Courtesy Emily Smith)

“We need to fundraise and we have a lot of them planned,” said Guzman. “We are having an open-mic event at the Cellar on Feb. 25 and a Latin party at the Cellar on March 20. Also, we’re having the event called ‘14 Days of Giveaway.’”

“14 Days of Giveaway” is an event where they will be selling tickets until the beginning of April and then they will be giving away a prize each day for the first 14 days. They’ll start selling tickets in March.

Smith encourages other students to participate in the program. When she went to Ghana last summer, she volunteered as a teacher and taught French and English at a local school because a lot of students in the village wanted to learn about French or English, yet they were having troubles learning the languages. She added that she learned a lot by teaching.

“It was a great eye-opening experience. You learn a lot about yourself,” she said. “Especially when you come back to Canada, it’s really cool to say that you did something like that and see what helps others.”

Smith said when she went to Ghana, she was blindsided because there was no one to prepare them for what was going to happen there. But she said that is what made the experience amazing.

“Everything kind of came at once, but that turned out to be a great experience because we didn’t know what’s gonna come next,” she said.

“I want to tell these students about all the awesome things and all these bad things that are gonna happen to them, but I’m not. Because I think it’s important for them to experience them for themselves and be able to get the most of the experiences as they can.”

Guzman agrees with Smith and said the program will bring something different to her life – something that will enrich her life with an opportunity to learn from a different way of life from hers.

“At the end, most of the learning that takes place in our lives doesn’t come from books, but real life experiences,” she said. “And I’m sure what we are going to be living there will mark our lives in a way we’ll never forget.”

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