Last semester I went on exchange to the University of Toronto. I bid farewell to my family and friends, packed up my winter gear and headed to the land of snow, moose and maple syrup for seven months of learning and travel.
It started off pretty well – the place I moved into was great (a Co-op in a three-storey Victorian house), the people I met were friendly and the university was beautiful, with its Hogwarts-esque buildings permanently dusted with snow. With a free gym, complimentary weekly massages, craft afternoons and pancake-keggers (oh yes), it looked like it was going to be a fantastic semester. And then it got better.
The first class I had at U of T was my fourth year history course on the US and the Vietnam War. U of T has waitlists for its classes, so, assuming I would miss out on a place in another history course, I’d changed at the last minute to this one. I’d had to write a little blurb about myself to get in, but, seeing as it was a seminar course with only 15 or so people I figured that was normal.
So I get to class, Monday afternoon, and the professor hands me a note as I walk in the door. “This is for the international module”, she said. Thoroughly confused, seeing as I already was international, I asked what that meant. “For the trip”, she said, staring at me like I was some fool, “the trip to Vietnam and Cambodia”.
And so it was that myself and 14 classmates ended up spending two weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia, at the expense of U of T, conducting interviews and research. We visited universities in Ho Chi Minh City, saw Uncle Ho in his embalmed glory, explored presidential and royal palaces and successfully avoided being run over by the sea of motorbikes. We saw killing fields, talked to survivors of the genocide in Cambodia and saw the glory of Angkor Wat from the back of an elephant.
Though I thought this was a pretty phenomenal and unique experience, and although my U of T classmates were also grateful and glad that they got to go on the trip, this kind of thing is not unusual at U of T. There are numerous courses that are offered each semester that involve some kind of overseas expedition. One of my friends was off to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands for a summer biology course, another to Ghana for an internship and another to Israel as part of Peace and Conflict studies.
Tell you what, I would be much more interested in my studies if I could go overseas as part of a course. It’s not just a trip overseas, it’s the chance to explore a new place, to fuel interests and to be immersed in what you’ve just spent a semester learning about. Surely, if ANU regards itself as the best university this country has to offer, it could offer international modules like U of T. In the meantime, everyone should go on exchange – you never know where you might end up!