Guidelines for International Practicum Placements
Students considering an international placement must consult the Practicum Course Instructor before submitting their initial Practicum Application Form. For purposes of formal paperwork that might be required by another country, such as a visa or other entry document, it is critical that students understand and frame the University of Alberta MLIS Practicum as a for-credit academic study course offered for a degree by a Canadian university that is undertaken at a host institution in another country.
In preparation, they should review relevant Resources and Forms, giving special attention to the section in the Student’s Guidebook entitled “Travel Abroad”.
Following approval by the Practicum Course Instructor of the student’s Practicum Application Form, the student must submit to the Practicum Course Instructor the International Travel Waiver Form
In addition, before leaving Canada students are required to review and register at the following:
UAlberta Safety and Security Abroad
UAlberta UGo Off-Campus Travel Registry
Government of Canada Registration of Canadians Abroad
Culture Shock, Acculturation, and Global Citizenship
Culture shock can be one of the biggest hurdles for an international Practicum student, but it also presents their biggest learning potential.
The challenge is to learn about two cultures simultaneously – the culture of the library, archives, or records management centre in which the student has found a Practicum placement, and the culture of the larger society in which the organization is situated. It is easy to forget the complexity of these layers within layers when at home, where we are typically oblivious to our own deeply internalized societal contexts, nuances, and tacit knowledge.
In anticipation of their Practicum in another country, students should familiarize themselves as much as possible with its national/regional culture as the broader environment for workplace acculturation. There might be a temptation to take the attitude of, I won’t be there long enough to get a “feel” for the culture, so why bother putting in the extra effort. That attitude would be both a strategic mistake and counterproductive to the School’s stated philosophy and pedagogy for Practicum.
Intercultural effectiveness involves the capacity of having a “feel” for a culture, as well as a knowledge of a culture’s “primary human toolkit” – the largely tacit patternings of interactions reflected in the totality of shared values, norms, beliefs, assumptions, history and traditions, behaviours, expectations, attitudes, structural styles and relationships, symbols, rituals, and taboos – and then being able to act appropriately based on this feeling.
In an organizational context, culture also includes tangible and tacit indicators such as corporate mission and vision statements, strategic plans, policies and procedures, authority relationships, organizational charts, budgets, space, job and reward systems, dress customs and codes, and professional and ethical norms. Organizational culture and the larger societal culture are primarily shared and transmitted through story. Organizational and professional socialization are the processes involved in learning about and adapting to a new workplace environment.
The focus on mutuality – of learning simultaneously about a society and a workplace – is underscored by the concept of global citizenship. Students are advised to consult the Centre for Global Citizenship Education & Research where on the homepage the following definition of global citizenship is provided:
"The concept of global citizenship suggests the development of global citizens who have a set of knowledges, skills and attitudes that make it possible for them to be actively involved in local, national and global institutions and systems that directly or indirectly affect their lives."
A key factor in cultural adaptation to both the organization and its larger societal context is the student’s relationship with their Practicum supervisor/mentor and other local contacts. They are a potential source of information and rich insights about both workplace and society. You are strongly encouraged to engage with your Practicum supervisor, other workplace colleagues, and other local contacts.
Lorisia MacLeod (MLIS 2018), who secured a Practicum placement in 2017 with the Laka me Lono Resource Center, KamakakOokālani Center for Hawaiian Studies, Hawai’inuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (Honolulu), noted in an email communication:
“My practicum supervisor was a great source of information on the local culture and I encourage everyone to engage with them and other local contacts around topics like, ‘Are there any events happening while I'll be here that I should see if I can attend?’ ‘Or is there a local food/restaurant/place that I should check out?’
I found that asking about those sort of things opened whole new doors for me as my supervisor wanted to work those into the rest of my schedule once she knew I was onboard with valuing them. It also meant that I often had a guide or friend when seeing many of these events since she or her friends were more than happy to show me about. Now that was just my experience but overall it seems librarians are pretty hospitable and polite folks who like to share their experiences and places so I'd like to think that others could have similar experiences.
It also was really great for helping build that relationship with my supervisor since it gave us an easy thing to talk about.”
The Government of Canada has information and strategies for Mental Health and Travel and Coping with Culture Shock.