My Summer in South Africa

Meet Ahmad, an engineering student who took the Summer Abroad course ‘RSM395Y0: Inclusive Consulting with Micro-Enterprises’ in South Africa.

My Summer in Greece

Billie shares her experiences in the 2017 Greece Summer Abroad program.

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My summer in South Africa

Read more below about Yalena’s experience in the 2017 South Africa Summer Abroad program.

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South Africa

I’m entering my last year at Rotman, specializing in Finance. I love new experiences and I’m passionate about many things such as oil painting, skiing, photography, yoga, calligraphy, and more. I’ve traveled a lot: I finished secondary and high school in Singapore and have taken four Summer Abroad courses in three years! I’ve been to close to 20 countries.

What motivated you to take the South Africa program?
Many factors motivated me to take this program:

  • The design of the program, specifically the working element. Students were able to gain real life work experience.
  • The professor. I respect Ann very much and have always wanted to take her courses, so it was a perfect opportunity to have close interactions with an amazing professor.
  • Doing meaningful work. The course is about inclusive consulting instead of the high-end consulting we normally do with big corporations. I feel more accomplished because I could implement some changes and help people at the bottom of the pyramid.
  • Travelling. I love travelling and every holiday I go to a different place. This provided me with yet another chance to explore the world and experience a different culture.

Was this your first time in South Africa? How did your impression of the local culture shift before, during and after your travels?
Yes, it was my first time in the African continent, actually. As I get to know South Africa better, I love its culture even more. Local people are very enthusiastic and hospitable. I’m also amazed by their delicate handcrafts. They are very talented people who can normally speak 3-5 languages and are really good at dancing and singing.

Do you think that taking the RSM395Y0 course in South Africa made a difference in your learning experience? How so?
Definitely. By working with our clients directly, I have a better understanding of the kind of work I actually enjoy doing and had a chance to apply the knowledge and skills I learned in school in real life situations. Many of the new concepts I learned from this course brought new inspirations to my career plan and allowed me to discover many new opportunities worth attempting.

What was your favorite aspect of studying abroad?
One of my favorite aspects of studying abroad was the close integration between professor, students, local people and other onsite staff. I learned so much from everyone of them.
Another aspect was the wonderfully designed course schedule. It combined both learning and cultural activities together, and we could study and have fun at the same time!
And finally we had enough time to really sink into the local environment. Just a few days’ travel would not really have been enough to explore the city.

Did you get a chance to interact with your professor?
All the time. Ann is a very engaging and caring professor. In class, she always encouraged our inputs and provided many valuable insights to our work. After class, she really became our friend and we would just talk about everything. She was not only our professor, but also a life mentor and an interesting friend.

Did you know anyone in the program before going? How was the experience of meeting new people?
Yes. It was amazing, I love meeting new people. Living together, exploring the city together and having fun together allowed us to become close very quickly and easily. There were so many memorable moments.

What did you typically do after classes?
We explored the city, took photos and tasted local foods! And of course, shopped!

Did you mostly eat out or cook in the residence? What did the other students do?
Everyone ate out. There were so many delicious and unique local cuisines at very affordable prices. We didn’t even have enough time to try them all, so no one cooked in the residence.

Tell us a little bit about the field trips you went on.
We covered almost all the attractions like Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope and so on. We had an amazing guide, Jerry. He wasvery knowledgeable and humorous. We also visited museums to learn about the history and culture which was very educational as well.

Is there anything you wish you would’ve known prior to leaving?
I pretty much had all the information I needed. The Summer Abroad office and our professor are very experienced and thoughtful.

Do you think you packed your suitcase appropriately for your travels? If not, what would you say you did wrong? And if so, do you have any tips for future travelers?
The only thing I would mention is that the weather in Cape Town was colder than I thought. I should’ve brought more jackets. Especially at night, it can be quite chilly.

Are there any particular highlights of the city that you would recommend future students to check out?
One of the highlights of the city is The local handcrafts, which are amazing. I bought so many gifts at the Watershed.
Another highlight is the sunset in Cape Town, it is magical. You can try different places: by the ocean, at the top of the mountain, etc. You’ll never forget that view!
And finally the foods: ostrich meat is delicious and local, and don’t miss out on the seafood as well!

Would you say you’ve gained any particular skills during your summer abroad?
Many! For example,I’ve gained consulting skills, by assisting our clients in solving real business problems), and also developed more communications skills. (Everything involves communication you need to talk to your clients to know their needs and explain your final recommendations, you need to talk to your teammates to develop solutions together, you need to talk to the professor and local consultants to get feedback and opinions.

In a nutshell, I highly recommend this program!

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My summer in Beijing & Tianjin

Watch Erin tell us a little bit about her experience in the 2017 Bejing & Tianjin Summer Abroad program.

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My summer in Hong Kong

U of T student, Brandon, answers some questions about his experience in the 2017 Hong Kong Summer Abroad program.

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HK

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what motivated you to take the Summer Abroad program in Hong Kong.

I am an incoming third-year student at Rotman commerce. I am a domestic student, but spent most of my upbringing in the cities of Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok. I was interested in taking the Hong Kong program because I have intentions to return to Asia in the long term to establish a career. I though that taking an international management course in Hong Kong would be a great starting point in exploring future professional opportunities in the city, as well as within the greater Southeast Asia region. 

Was this your first time in China? How did your impression of the local culture shift before, during and after your travels?

The Summer Abroad program was not my first time in China. I actually grew up in Hong Kong for several years due to my family’s expatriate job positions. However, being confined to Hong Kong’s expat community as a result of familial circumstances did not give me the opportunity to see and experience Hong Kong from the perspective of a local. Given that this business course was taught with Hong Kong and its local businesses in mind, I was able to learn about and see the city from a more localized perspective than I had before. It was even more exciting that the professor is from Hong Kong, as he taught us just as much about Hong Kong’s local culture as our course content.

Do you think that taking the RSM295Y0 course in Hong Kong made a difference in your learning experience? How so?

Having participated in this overseas management course has allowed me to expand my social network and learning experiences beyond the boarders of Toronto. It made me realize just how applicable and international my education in Toronto is. While studying in Toronto, I had the perception that what I learn is only proprietary to a Canadian context and point of view, because I was attending a Canadian school. Once I started taking the Hong Kong course, however, I realized that many of the things I’ve learned in Canada were just as applicable internationally as in Canada. The course made me realize how international my education at UofT actually is.

What was your favorite aspect of studying abroad?

Meeting fellow students who came from different backgrounds and programs of study. This was especially interesting because most students were not in the same graduating class as I was. Being able to give advice to younger students, obtain advice from upper-years, and partake in light-hearted conversations with my peers were definitely highlights of the trip. 

Did you get a chance to interact with your professor?

Yes. The professor was very approachable and made the effort to get to personally know every student he taught. During our field trips to factories in mainland China and several other businesses, Professor Chiu would gladly answer our questions and partake in informal student discussions regarding international business. It was great to have a professor that actively broke down student-teacher barriers to get to know his students. 

Did you know anyone in the program before going? How was the experience of meeting new people?

Surprisingly, meeting new people during the trip was not really an issue. Almost all of us were stuck in the same boat of attending classes in a completely different university setting than UofT. I believe the mentality of being transplanted into a new environment made it all the more easier to meet and befriend others in the program. 

What did you typically do after classes?

Apart from reviewing class notes and studying, I would bring my fellow classmates to places of interest in Hong Kong. Such places included local coffee shops and restaurants to seek out the best places to study, relax, and have a cup of local coffee. 

Tell us a little bit about the field trips you went on.

All of the field trips were to local businesses to observe their methods of operation. For example, we visited a toy factory’s production facilities in mainland China to take a look at their assembly lines and how manufacturing is organized from a managerial standpoint. 

Are there any particular highlights of the city that you would recommend future students to check out?

Be sure to check out local eateries, coffee shops, and fashion outlets in the districts of Sheung Wan and Central. Although also well-known for its bars and nightlife, there are many hidden jewels for eating and shopping along these streets you will not be able to find in most Hong Kong travel guides. 

Take a scenic 30 minute hike around Victoria Peak, Hong Kong Island’s tallest viewing point, to get a mesmerizing view of the city. 

Would you say you’ve gained any particular skills during your summer abroad?

I think my interpersonal skills have improved during the summer abroad program. I went into the course not knowing anyone, but left with several great friends whom I still contact on a regular basis.

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Traveling domo

The little domo has already traveled lots this summer!
Take a look at some of the places he has been and
follow us on Instagram to find out where he is going next!

traveling-domo

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Passionate about science research? Tackle chemistry in Hungary

For Wendy Wang, signing up for the Science Abroad program was one of the best decisions she could make for her education and future career path. As a third-year student majoring in immunology and global health, it is important for her to be challenged outside of her boundaries, to be able to think outside the box and to learn about how different parts of the world handle research in medicine.

Wang signed up for the Chemistry in Hungary program in her first year because she wanted to learn if she would be passionate about research.

“This trip certainly helped me realize that passion. But more than my passion for research, this trip showed me how I am capable of really pushing my boundaries and working collaboratively across various cultures and linguistic environments.”

The Chemistry in Hungary program lasts for seven weeks, from May 13 to July 1, hosted by the Drug Discovery Research Center at the University of Miskolc, one of the most prestigious research facilities overseas. The program consists of students from all over North America and Europe. The students attend lectures led by international researchers, participate in labs and learn skills that they use in individual projects. At the end, they travel to an international research symposium, where they present their research. Through such a unique experiential learning process, students get the chance to relate their academic studies to real-world lab situations, while also earning a course credit that will count toward their degree requirements.

Wang’s research during the program was in computational chemistry, investigating various contributors to the binding affinity of epinephrine derivatives to ß2 adrenergic receptors in search of potential new drug molecules. She says that choosing to do this program gave her valuable research experience in the field, challenged her to develop her data analysis skills and helped prepare her for presenting at conferences.

“For me, information given in lecture halls comes in a one-way flow,” says Wang. “This program offered me the chance to not only learn in-depth about my chosen subject, but also allowed me to share what my research has found.”

Besides achieving great academic goals, Wang also looks back on her program fondly for giving her so much international experience and exposure to other cultures.

“Unlike a regular travel experience, taking a course abroad, especially a research course, forces you to adapt to a variety of professional environments,” she says.

Her experience in Hungary even encouraged her to pursue more research opportunities abroad; last summer, she sought out an independent project in Glasgow, Scotland.

Wang knows that completing the program will be valuable to future employers and admissions committees.

“Now I can attest to my capacity to interact diplomatically with a diverse range of researchers and academics, and the ability to work independently as well, and that’s really important,” she says.

Learn more about the program at uoft.me/scienceabroad

Written by Jessica Lewis

Experience Chinese society from Beijing and Tianjin

There’s no better way to learn about China’s politics, economy, culture and the real lives of its citizens than from the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square and the Hai River.

For the second year in a row, University of Toronto students can apply for a summer abroad course in Beijing and Tianjin that focuses on understanding social change and development in contemporary Chinese society, particularly in how social change affects people individually, with the country as the classroom.

In the course, over four weeks, students have lectures four days a week, attend events, interview local guests, go on trips and conduct field work. The course, hosted by professors Weiguo Zhang and Ka Tat Tsang, is split between Capital University of Economics and Business (CUEB) in Beijing and Nankai University in Tianjin. At CUEB, students will stay at the original Hongmiao campus, just minutes from the city’s business district. Nankai University is one of the most prestigious universities in the country, where students will stay on the main Balitai campus.

During the course, students are introduced to local students and professors, activists, villagers and policy-makers. They go on educational trips to a home for migrant workers, a privately-operated elder-care home, a car manufacturer and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“Getting to experience China first-hand while learning about the country’s history and policy was so interesting,” says fourth-year sociology student Michael Dineen, who completed the course in 2016. “Being immersed in life as it exists there while getting to meet policy-makers and the people who live alongside their policies was very cool. It’s one thing to learn in a classroom, but it’s another to learn through visceral experience.”

Besides it being a heavily experiential-based course, the most important aspect of the course to Professor Zhang is that students can make the experience their own by asking questions at every activity, trip, lecture and interview.

“Asking questions gives students a chance to apply what they’ve learned already and make their own inquiries,” says Zhang. “They always have such interesting questions!”

It’s getting right into China’s communities that gives students a real understanding of social development in China, which gives them the knowledge and skills for critical analysis of issues relating to Chinese society and global issues.

“We are living in a globalized society,” says Dineen, who highly recommends the course. “Gaining a better understanding of a nation that significantly contributes to our global community is something I think everyone should do at some point in their life.”

In order to apply for SOC393Y0, students must have taken a SOC course at the 200+ level or have relevant academic preparation, but do not have to be majoring in sociology.

“For a student to be able to go to China to learn about Chinese society during university is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in so many ways,” says Zhang. “From everything they’ll see and experience, to creating memories that will help shape them personally and educationally to becoming global citizens, this course really provides something special.”

Written by Jessica Lewis

My Summer in Central Europe

Miruna Chitoi is a 4th year student majoring in European Studies who participated in the Southeastern Europe and Central Europe Summer Abroad programs. Miruna was excited to reminisce about her unforgettable times in Central Europe.
Q: What course did you take in Central Europe?
A: I took HIS389Y0 (The City in Central Europe: Imperial Pasts, Imperial Aspirations, Wars and Revolution).
Q: What did you learn by participating in this program that you wouldn’t have learned in Toronto?
A: What I learned by participating in this program that I would not have learned by taking the same course in Toronto is how to link the field to my research and essays. I got to incorporate my own observations of life in Central Europe right into my essays! For example, when I wrote an essay about how Mozart is still very prominent in modern day Vienna and the musical image it has for itself, my research consisted of walking around the city and noting how his face is on banners everywhere, visiting the Mozarthaus Museum and getting all dressed up to see one of his operas at he Vienna State Opera! Actually being in the city while doing research allowed me to immerse myself in my essay in a way that taking the course in Toronto would not have been able to do.
Q: Has your participation in the program affected what you want to do as a career or what you want to study?
A: Participating in this program deepened my interest in my European studies major, and sparked an interest in Central and Eastern Europe that wasn’t as prominent before this Summer Abroad experience. The history of Central Europe is a very rich one that often gets neglected next to that of Western Europe, and after this course, I would love to continue learning about the region. After visiting Vienna I even decided that I want to add German to my list of languages!
Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced at your destination and how did you overcome it?
A: The biggest challenge I faced during the program was definitely the language barrier while I was in Czech Republic, especially because I had a Czech roommate who did not speak English very well and I don’t speak any Czech. To overcome this, I became quite good at miming! We actually ended up having a good laugh on several occasions but we still found a way to communicate. I even downloaded a Czech translation app and learned some Czech phrases from my roommate in exchange for teaching her a few English ones!

Q: What were your highlights of the program?
A: The highlights of my program would definitely have to be the charm and beauty of Central Europe, and the amazing new friends that I got to experience that with. For many years I dreamed of visiting Prague, and even though we had torrential downpour while we were there, Prague’s incomparable beauty did not fail to disappoint. However, I think what made the whole trip really special was the friends I made on the program. Because we had to live with each other 24/7 for 5 weeks, we got to know each other really well- and luckily this solidified our friendship rather than making us sick of each other! It was a wonderful group and I feel so grateful that I get to continue seeing them frequently in Toronto. In fact, even a year later we regularly meet up and have schnitzel together at a Hungarian restaurant on Bloor street so that we can relive our Central Europe experiences!

Q: What did you find most rewarding about participating in this program?
A: What I found most rewarding by participating in this program was being able to physically go and see the cities we had just talked about in class. For example after just learning about the Prague Spring of 1968, we got to go to Wenceslas Square where demonstrations took place. This definitely made it easier to envision what it must have been like to be there at the time. Also, studying at Masaryk University in Brno and constantly being around other Czech students definitely helped me feel more international and not as “touristy”, but at the same time, the fact that it is a U of T course taught by U of T faculty still gave me some familiarity so it really was the best of both worlds.

Q: What advice would you give to a student thinking about participating in this program next year?
A: To any student thinking about participating in this program, my advice to you is to stop thinking about doing it and actually make it a reality! The Central Europe program has a staff so dedicated to ensuring that its students not only learn a lot but also have an incredibly amazing experience while there that it’s impossible NOT to have a good experience. I know a number of people who have done this program during various years and everyone has agreed that the Central Europe program makes for an unforgettable summer. I can guarantee the same for anyone who participates!

My Summer in the UAE

Amara Hakak is an Accounting specialist from the Rotman Commerce program and will be starting her fourth year in September. She participated in the Summer Abroad Program in the UAE last summer and shares her unforgetable experiences.Why did you decide to participate in the UAE Summer Abroad program?
Initially, I had always wanted to study abroad and get that experience of being on my own. But being in Rotman Commerce, I did not want to just study any course – I wanted to take something that would complement my learning here. I had heard about UAE being one of the fastest growing economies and I thought it would be very interesting to learn about it while being completely immersed in it! Additionally, the rich and very unique culture of the UAE (and the Middle East, in general) was something I wanted to explore and be a part of.

How did your academic experience abroad differ from other business/accounting courses you’ve taken in Toronto?
My academic experience in the UAE was completely different from the experiences I have had here in Toronto. With only 17 people in our class, the small class size made one-on-one interactions with my peers very easy and meaningful, to the point where we all became friends very early on. Our professor was always very accessible and at times, lectures seemed more like discussions where participation was encouraged and our input was highly valued. Additionally, we visited quite a few oil companies and banks, and got the opportunity to hear about the challenges they have faced and overcome. We always read about companies and do case studies here in Toronto, but rarely do we ever get the chance to talk with the senior management of these companies and learn about them first-hand.

What were the highlights of your trip?
I loved every bit of the trip, but some things definitely stand out more than others. On our first day, we went on a desert safari. I will always remember it as the trip that brought us all together as a group. I was very excited that I got to ride on a camel in the middle of the desert. It was quite the ride! And then the best part was that we ended the night with a traditional Arab-style dinner under the moonlight. The next day we got a tour of Dubai, with visits to malls and mosques alike. What I really loved was the fact that we got to see two different sides of the same place within two days and I do not think that I would have had that experience had it not been for the way this Summer Abroad program was planned.

Describe your favourite field trip.
I think quite a lot of people in our group would agree with me if I said that our favourite field trip was the one to Atlantis, The Palm. During the day, we had the opportunity to tour the resort and its numerous facilities. We also heard the Senior Vice President of Operations, Mr. Heiko Schreiner, speak about the resort, its operations and the challenges it has faced over the years. Everything, from dining at the grand Kaleidoscope Restaurant, to spending two days at the Aquaventure Waterpark, to watching the sun set over the Persian Gulf, was amazing!

What was the most interesting (course related) thing you learned while abroad?
I had always thought about how the Middle East would run out of oil very soon and that they were not doing anything about it. However, after visiting the UAE, it was very apparent that they have been making their best effort to diversify their economy away from being based just on oil and gas. A great example of this was when we visited Mubadala in Abu Dhabi, which is a company dedicated solely to finding ways to diversify the economy. This was one of the things that I was not specifically aware of and seeing their efforts really changed my perspective about the UAE.

What did you find most rewarding about the program?
I have enjoyed every bit of the program, but I will have to say that the relationships I have built will definitely stay with me forever. At the end of the day, I have gained a lot of knowledge, have had amazing opportunities to visit the different emirates of the UAE, and have discovered a lot about myself. But the memories that we all made together will last a lifetime and I will always have this summer to look back to as the best summer I ever had.

Did your participation in this program affect what you wanted to do as a future career or what you wanted to study? Explain.
I have wanted to become a Chartered Professional Accountant for a long time and taking this accounting course made me even more certain that this is what I wanted. With great in-class instruction and field trip exposure, this program has helped me further understand and accept my decision of being a CPA.

What advice would you give to a student considering the summer abroad program in the UAE next year?
My advice to a student ‘considering’ this summer abroad program would be to stop considering it and just go for it! I have realized that I should have made the decision to apply to this program in the blink of an eye, without any hesitation. This program has given me everything from knowledge to real-world experience and exposure, and from fantastic friendships memories that will truly last a lifetime!

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My Summer in Southeast Europe

Madeline Klimek is a 3rd year student majoring in International Relations and History who recently participated in our Summer Abroad program in Southeastern Europe. Madeline kindly answered a few questions about her experiences participating in this exciting program.
How was your academic experience doing the program in Southeastern Europe different than taking a similar course in Toronto?
One of the big differences was the small class-room size of  25 students which definitely helped everyone to get to know each other very well. Other than the great teaching style of Prof. Robert Austin, being in the region and visiting the places that you study about also allowed us to immerse ourselves in the mindset of people and to realize that war is still very present in the fabric of everyday life; things that would not have been possible in Toronto.
How was your experience different than what you initially expected?
For me, one of the most unexpected part of the program was visiting memorial sites. It is truly moving to see that family members are still visiting these sites and that people remember everything about the wars. As I said, war and dealing with its aftermath are still very much parts of the everyday life in the region. But it is also very interesting to witness the progress that is being made twenty years after the wars.
Has this course changed your perspective on the subject matter? If so, then how?
Personally, I went in the program knowing very little about the Balkans but the course material and field trips helped me to come out very knowledgeable. The program also opened my eyes to a whole different region of the world which is still struggling and where tensions are still pretty much high.
What were the highlights of the program in your opinion?
I immensely enjoyed our trip to Bosnia during the second portion of the program where we had 10 days to travel throughout the region and to do research for our final essay. We stayed in Sarajevo for two nights, and in Mostar one night which was very intense but also fascinating at the same time because we had the opportunity to experience first-hand things that we had been studying about for a while. Seeing a whole different culture than what we normally experience in Canada was also very exciting. Throughout the program, we got to try many traditional dishes which actually inspired one of my friends to do her final paper on Ataman influences on the Balkan cuisine.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in participating in this program?
Taking a full year course in four weeks is definitely challenging. In addition, most of us did not anticipate the great emotion of the wars and the intensity of their impact on lives of the people.
What did you find most rewarding about participation in this program?
All of us have definitely become much more interested in the region itself. Students are still posting articles on our group page and I know a former UofT student who is going back to the region to do journalist work there so you definitely have the opportunity to stay connected to what you feel passionate about.

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My German Summer

Ana Faraon, a third year student with a double major in German Studies and Chemistry, who participated in the Summer Abroad program in Germany in 2011 answers questions about her experiences.What was the nature of the course you did in Berlin?The 2011 Summer Abroad course in Berlin was an exciting  fusion of literature, history, and sociology, explored through a hands-on approach. The readings about experiences in Berlin provided a starting point for our cultural investigation of the city, whereas the museums and field trips were the driving force of a rich and original opinion exchange.What did you learn by participating in this program that you wouldn’t have learned in Toronto?Everything that I learned in this course was uniquely influenced by the environment! The memorial houses where authors lived offer a new perspective on their literature; the remnants of the Berlin Wall and make us relate to stories of people ‘caught on the wrong side’ and, last but not least, the multitude of monuments help us understand the post-war development of German thought and dealing with the past. All these are not remotely as relevant in Toronto, because verbal/ written descriptions cannot contain the overwhelming impact you experience on-site!
Has your participation in the program affected what you want to do as a career or what you want to study?This program was definitely very rewarding career-wise: the visit to the Canadian Embassy provided us with useful information on the study opportunities available to students from Canada. Personally, this course allowed me see the importance of chemical development in Germany. I hope to be able in the future to work for a company that combines my chemistry studies with my knowledge of the German language and people.
For my current studies, this course proved useful right away: I find it easy to do well in my Weimar Culture course and other similar ones as a direct result of getting to know Berlin in person, not from books.What were the biggest challenges you faced?

My biggest challenge was to go out of my comfort zone, in a new environment, where I don’t speak the language well yet and make friends by myself with the bartenders in cafes, with museum curators, with tour guides and so on. It took a bit of an effort, but it was completely worth it!

What did you find most rewarding about participating in this program?

The most rewarding thing about this program is what I call ‘personal enrichment’. I explored a marvelous city and an original culture and I learned how to deal with new life situations. I don’t exaggerate when I say that it changed my life.

What advice would you give to a student thinking about participating in this program next year?

Be open-minded, try to leave your preconceptions at home and blend with the place! You’ll have a much easier time adapting and will be able to focus on exploring the world before your eyes.  In case you had any doubts, you’re in for the experience of your university life!

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