Summer Abroad: The Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity

Most of us like to travel, but all of us want to learn. Summer Abroad is the chance to do both! Each year, the University of Toronto (Woodsworth College) accepts hundreds of applications for several summer courses that happen overseas. While most of these courses are generally 4-5 weeks in duration, students will receive 1.0 credit for the completion of the course. Naturally, there are several streams and subjects to pick from and even more amazing countries to consider – France, England, Italy, Ecuador, UAE, South America, Germany, and more! For complete info (costs, residence, syllabus), be sure to visit the Summer Abroad website: https://summerabroad.utoronto.ca/

Ok, so everyone advocates this to be a great opportunity – you learn a lot, it looks great on your resume, it helps you “prepare” for the real world, etc. While all this is true, Summer Abroad also has its unique challenges, and may not be ideal for every student. Therefore, in this article, I want to share a little bit about my own experience – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and tips on how to make the most of your time abroad.

I completed Summer Abroad in Italy in 2015 (end of 2nd year) for a finance course called “The History and Design of Financial Institutions”, and I can confidently say that this was THE BEST experience of my university career for several reasons. Academically, we were taught the basics of finance concepts from the past to the present (i.e. pension funds, trusts and central banking), but rather than just reading it on paper, we actually got to visit the oldest bank in the world, attend a lecture at EU Headquarters and pay a visit to the Bank of Italy’s Money Museum.

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Monte dei Paschi, Siena (oldest bank in the world)

Moreover, I learned how to manage my time efficiently (the hard way) since I was essentially responsible for cooking, cleaning, laundry and oh yeah – studies. If this wasn’t busy enough, be prepared to travel every weekend, either for class trips or personal mini-getaways. I mean, hey, it’s Europe. Transportation is actually very cheap (a devilish temptation) and friends are aplenty.  My trip was chock full of experiences and it would be impossible to write about everything, but let’s just say that I had a very real health scare (thanks to a pesky tiger mosquito), the case of the missing iPhone charger during a class trip to a foreign city (Rome), and inconvenient gaps in language.

Nonetheless, I also had some brilliant experiences – I met wonderful people with whom I’m sure will be lifelong friends, I experienced the Tuscan way of living, travelled to dream cities such as Siena, Venice, Milan, Florence, Verona and Rome, and truly enjoyed delving into the local Italian culture (I can now order gelato in Italian 😉 ). Overall, I wouldn’t change a thing. Every single experience and challenge I faced made me a stronger person, changed my attitude towards life, and really humbled me towards other cultures. Needless to say, I highly recommend Summer Abroad to everyone and can honestly say that it will definitely be one of the highlights of your life. If you do plan to pursue the program, below are my quick tips to make an easier transition:

1. Get a new SIM card and purchase data immediately. The GPS is your lifeline.
2. Make sure you have 2-3 emergency contacts (including your roommate, a local friend, and the course coordinator).
3. Download a translator app. Seriously. No explanation needed.
4. Create a timetable and pace yourself in all duties. It is so easy to get lost in the charm of a foreign city, but it’s more important to fare well in your course and not procrastinate. It’s why you’re there in the first place, right?
5. HAVE FUN! Time goes by fast, don’t waste it!

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