A new lens on life at home and abroad: UAlberta students discover fresh world views through the Certificate in International Learning

Two students share their personal experiences and how their worldviews shifted through UAlberta's CIL program.

By Chris Schiemann - 31 July 2019

During the first year of his Bachelor Degree in Biological Science, the only time that Xuan Cao left his dorm room was for class. He arrived in Edmonton from China in 2014 to study at UAlberta, and though he studied at an international high school, he found it challenging to reach out to other students on campus.

"I spent a lot of time playing League of Legends with my friends from high school online because it was a good way to keep in touch," explains Cao, who elaborates that the only students he spoke with outside of the online video games were other international students. "It was a comfort of home. I did try to make some friends who weren't Chinese and I even participated in some clubs. And though a lot of people were in these clubs, I found it difficult to make close friends."

Looking to try something new, Cao enrolled in the Certificate in International Learning (CIL).

Cao is one of over 300 students who have completed the CIL, a program run in partnership between the Faculty of Arts and UAlberta International. The aim of the program is to help students gain a broader knowledge of international cultures, improve communication between cultures and gain a better understanding of global issues.

Cao's international experience saw him travel across southern Africa for three months along with other biology students from Canada, Europe, and Latin America. They worked with local residents on a range of health issues, including individuals living with HIV and AIDS, as the group traveled across three different countries.

"This trip gave me a global education as we tried to learn about the country and the culture," says Cao, explaining that he found the cultural interaction portion of his certificate to be engaging and interesting. "I got to see how different nations work together to make something happen, and it helped me to learn how to interact with different cultures."

The CIL program involves students taking 12 credits, which can be a part of a student's regular degree program, plus participating in an international or intercultural experience. Though many of the students take this opportunity to travel to parts of the world they always wanted to see, travel isn't a requirement of the program. International students do not need to go abroad as their experience in Canada counts as their international experience. Options for international experiences for the program also include participating in UAlberta International House programs or offering 100 volunteer hours with a service agency that works with international cultures, such as the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers.

"We see students from 12 faculties and many areas of study, participate in the program," says Nancy Hannemann, Director of Global Education with UAlberta International. She explains that students choose courses with international or intercultural content from a very extensive list of courses that count towards the certificate while simultaneously counting towards their degree program. "There is no application fee and there's no academic penalty for not completing the program, so there shouldn't be obstacles to trying to earn the certificate" says Hannemann.

Hannemann explains that the CIL program helps students as they enter the professional and academic worlds. "This certificate is part of changing a world view for many students," notes Hannemann. "UAlberta has a strategy to prepare its students for the world and having knowledge of global issues and systems and other cultures helps to impart to students a larger and more complex view on the world." She looks forward to seeing more students apply for and complete the program and imagines that one day every UAlberta student will have intercultural or international experiences that transform their perspectives.

Sara Orenstein is another UAlberta student who pursued the CIL, but with a different approach. As part of her Bachelor's Degree in Biological Science, she had already spent a semester studying abroad in Sweden- she was happy to learn later that this time abroad could be applied to her CIL. She explains that her experience in the Scandinavian region helped inspire her to continue pursuing higher education, this time with a Master's Degree in Public Health.

"It was an immersive and intercultural experience that gave me a big culture shock when I landed in Sweden and gave me a culture shock when I came back to Edmonton," says Orenstein. One of the components of the CIL she found very valuable was the Intercultural Communication Training workshop, which provided her the opportunity to understand her culture shock. In addition to learning about different international systems through both her studies abroad and what she learned in the CIL courses, she feels that she gained a global perspective on health issues that will help better inform the approaches she hopes to take in her Master's studies. "I'm hoping to be able to use a lot of what I learned from Sweden's healthcare system and implement that into new takes on public health here in Canada."

Looking back on his time in the CIL program, Cao sees the value that the courses and his travel experience gave him to help with his education. He experienced a part of the world and interacted with people he never would have otherwise encountered, which helped him understand and learn to relate to other cultures.

"People sometimes take the courses but then never travel and I don't think that's helpful," says Cao. "I would definitely suggest people go abroad as part of the courses and just try to experience everything. This was my global education."