International partnerships enrich learning at Brescia

Dr. Colleen O’Connor admits that she was a little bit hesitant about traveling to the Netherlands to present at a conference at Stenden University. “I’m not a well-travelled person,” she says. “To me going to a strange country with a different language was intimidating.”

Maria Theresia Schroder, a student at Stenden University, had the same hesitation coming to Brescia on exchange. “I was really nervous,” she says. “I was intimidated going across the ocean and being alone in a different country.”

O’Connor teaches clinical nutrition in Brescia’s School of Food & Nutritional Sciences. She graduated from Brescia in 2000, and returned as a faculty member in 2008. When an invitation was posted for faculty members to attend Stenden’s International Week, O’Connor stepped forward. “I saw it as an opportunity to go outside my comfort zone and learn more about internationalization and exchange programs.”

She was immediately touched by the beauty of her surroundings and the warmth of her welcome. “I left feeling very confident that every student should have an international experience,” she says. “You grow in so many ways by going somewhere new and learning about a different culture.”

Schroder grew up in Germany and decided at an early age that she wanted to study internationally. She enrolled at Stenden University, where she is studying media and entertainment management. All Stenden students are required to have at least one international experience as part of their programs. Schroder decided to do an exchange at Brescia, because she had always wanted to visit Canada.

She was picked up at London International airport by Christina Lord, Brescia’s International Student Program Coordinator. “Christina, the first person I met, was so nice, I thought, ‘Okay, this could work!’ Everyone at Brescia was so friendly and welcoming that I didn’t even miss home all that much. I wanted to stay!”

Brescia has always had an international focus, but now students and employers are demanding it.

Stenden is one of several universities around the world with which Brescia has formal partnerships.
The partnerships enable student and faculty exchanges and research collaborations. “We look for institutions that are similar in terms of size, mission and academic programs, and offer a safe location,” says Marianne Simm, Brescia’s Vice-Principal Students. For example, Brescia recently signed a partnership agreement with Mary Immaculate College in Limerick Ireland, a small, Catholic university that was actively seeking international partners. Canadian trade commissioners also help Brescia identify potential partners around the world.

One of Brescia’s long-standing partnerships is with Wayo Women’s University in Japan. Wayo faculty members have visited Brescia to learn about Canadian teaching methods, and Dr. Alicia Garcia, a Professor in the School of Food & Nutritional Sciences, has traveled to Wayo. As part of an innovative new course offering, Dr. Garcia will lead a group of 14 Brescia students on a 10-day visit to Japan during the spring break. Last year, the 12 students enrolled in this course travelled to Cuba.

Simm says university partnerships are part of Brescia’s overall international strategy. “We are looking at how to integrate internationalization into teaching, research and service,” she says. “Brescia has always had an international focus, but now students and employers are demanding it.”

Fostering student exchanges is an important part of the strategy, she says. “Exchange programs are an organized way for students to have an immersive experience in a different culture,” says Simm. Brescia is looking at ways to support students financially and to ensure that they can exchange credits seamlessly when they return. The students traveling to Japan will each receive a $1,000 stipend to help with travel costs.

Brescia is also hoping to foster more faculty exchanges and research collaborations. “Being at Stenden really opened my eyes to faculty opportunities,” says O’Connor. “I saw how enriching they could be.”

Schroder says her exchange at Brescia has made her more self-reliant, confident, and open to the world
“That’s important to me,” she says. “I don’t want to live in my little bubble. I want to burst the bubble and go out into the world and conquer it!”