Between March 2011 and June 2014 I visited with roughly 12,000 high school students, parents and educators across Canada for the purpose of promoting the University of Ottawa and its innovative French Immersion Stream. I was a uOttawa Liaison Officer, and found my role to be both exciting and rewarding, as I encouraged students to pursue post-secondary studies in both of our country’s official languages. I had been (and still am) the beneficiary of bilingualism myself, having honed my French language skills throughout high school as well as during 8 months living with a Francophone billet family in Gatineau when I was 16. Growing up in an Anglophone family (with parents who strongly encouraged the development of our second language), I have also experienced the struggles of learning a second language outside of the home. It is no small feat, and requires a lifetime of awareness and practice. No one is immune to the attack on self-confidence that learning a second language can unleash (especially as an adult). We have all been witness to the ultra-confident leader, executive or salesperson that suddenly wilts under the pressure of communicating through a language in which they are not as articulate as their first. For the partially bilingual speaker, communicating in a second language can - and often has - flipped a conversation on its head. It can shift power dynamics in a single question or statement. This is but one of the many reasons that, as Liaison Officer for uOttawa, I was so happy to promote a program that provided young adults with a realistic and supportive way of getting over the “language hump” as I call it. The way I saw it, students would reap the benefits in their careers and personal lives – interpersonally, culturally, and cognitively.
As an adult living and working in a bilingual environment, I am constantly reminded of the incredible power of language to build relationships, confidence and culture. I work in both languages regularly, my fiancée is Franco-Ontarian and I am completing my graduate studies in French. It was, therefore, very easy for me to “sell” the program. In fact, studying in both languages was one of three “no brainers” that I encouraged every student entering post-secondary to pursue: bilingualism, CO-OP and an international exchange.
The benefits of CO-OP tend to be more obvious to most people. CO-OP programs in Canadian universities as well as the practical experience gained in most college programs have been gaining steam in recent years - and with good reason. Having also spent two years working for the uOttawa CO-OP office, I can attest to the incredible benefits students gain through this model of education. Their work-place experience provides a number of advantages to students: they learn what they like and – often as important – what they don’t like; they gain a better understanding of the realities of the job market and they cover the majority of their tuition fees. In actuality, the advantages of completing a CO-OP program are too many to enumerate in this short blog. Suffice it to say that CO-OP programs and practical curricula will only continue to expand in years to come.
There has also been a recent increase in the coverage and emphasis – both in popular culture as well as through formal institutions – on the importance of international experiences for Canadian students. Yet, many are still unable to fully recognize the cultural, social, and personal development gains that an international exchange can provide. Anyone who has spent a few months backpacking, doing humanitarian work or visiting some of the world’s most important historical sites would have no difficulty rattling off any number of intrapersonal, social and developmental skills that they gained through their travels. Adaptability, problem solving, intercultural communication, social responsibility, curiosity, networking – the list goes on – are all regularly cited as skills and advantages that one can learn and improve through international experiences. It just so happens that employers in the 21st century job market also happen to regularly cite these as desirable skills in their employees. Personally, I believe the skills and knowledge I learned through my own travels have been of greater use than those I learned during my undergraduate degree. This is not meant to discount post-secondary education, as it certainly plays an important role in personal and professional development. Rather, it is meant to demonstrate the power of practical experience in a global society. The best example I can provide from my own experience is my ability to relate to people from a vast diversity of populations. This capacity to find common ground with others is essential in building trust and has only expanded my love and interest in meeting and learning about new people. While we do live in a digital age, building positive interpersonal relationships remains fundamental in achieving business and personal success. This is but one of the many benefits I have reaped through travel, and if you asked 10 travelers, you would likely hear 10 different incredible ways that their experiences have improved their lives and their work. The article below provides one of those perspectives. It serves as an excellent example of what you would hear from many others who have taken the time to explore some other part of the world. It also provides a personal narrative that supports the Discover Year’s emphasis on travel for our participants. Les avantages de l’exploration international sont presque innumérable.