Career & Education

Opportunities abound Guidance counsellors report on eight-school Canada tour

Associate editor — features

Sunday, August 20, 2017

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Met and exceeded.

That's the report Caribbean guidance counsellors who went on a week-long tour of Canadian institutions of higher learning at the start of the month give when asked how their expectations matched their experience.

The counsellors — Andria Strong-Moses, Althea Francis, Claudia Willie, and Paula Gordon-Grant from Jamaica; Richine Bethell from The Bahamas; and Beth Schmidgall from the Cayman Islands — travelled between the provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick learning about the academic programmes, tuition and fees, scholarship opportunities for international students, student accommodations, among other things at eight different schools.

They started at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Durham College, both in Oshawa, travelled an hour by bus to Trent University in Peterborough, and then journeyed two hours to Ryerson University in Toronto. From there, they flew to the University of New Brunswick (UNB) and New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) in St John, then drove an hour to Fredericton where they toured New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, St Thomas University, and the Fredericton campuses of UNB and NBCC.

The itinerary was packed tight, with days beginning as early as 5:00 am and 2:00 am, and ending at 8:00 pm most days. It meant they were always on the go; always on their feet. But the experience was golden, they reported.

“It was a very, very good fair,” Schmidgall, counsellor at Cayman International School, told the Jamaica Observer. “We saw a lot in a short amount of time”.

“My main aim coming here was networking with the schools and establishing contacts with the admissions reps, because we have a high volume of students who do apply and attend schools in Canada so I want to put Cayman on the map. They think we don't have any students coming their way but we do, and I want them to come and market in Cayman and that was accomplished,” she continued.

For Francis, who is one of two counsellors at Glenmuir High School in Clarendon, “It was a rich experience.

“I was impressed with how much more resources Canada puts into education and how much emphasis is placed on hands-on learning, which adds much more value to the learning experience,” she said.

“This tour emphasised the need for students to be more involved in the entire school experience, not just academics, and I will be impressing that on my students when I go back to school,” Francis added.

The Bahamas's Bethell was impressed as well, and pointed to the opportunities for international students and the relatively low cost of tuition among her takeaways.

“The best part of the tour for me was hearing that upon completing their degree, my students will be afforded the opportunity to stay and work. They have the choice to come back home or stay for a year or three years, depending on which programme they are enrolled in. I found that very fascinating and encouraging for those kids who want to take the time to enjoy something new or different,” she told Career & Education.

“I was not aware that the tuition was so cost-efficient; the costs are affordable for our kids and that's mind-blowing.

“It was really, really good to forge the kinds of relationships where I can now pick up the phone or send a quick email to say, 'I have this student who interested in this.' My students will benefit from that accessibility and the wealth of information that I am bringing back. I will not just tell them about the academic opportunities but the transitioning opportunities with moving from The Bahamas to Canada.

The tour was sponsored by the Canadian High Commission in Jamaica and was intended to widen the knowledge base of guidance counsellors, while enhancing the profile of studying in Canada. It was also designed to create interest in postgraduate studies for faculty and, by extension, increase Canadian alumni representation in the selected islands.

Asked what were some of the lessons she will take back to Montego Bay High School for Girls, Willie referenced Canadian institutions' emphasis on career development, and opportunities to live and work in the country after graduation.

“I was captivated by how sociable, accepting, and welcoming the Canadians are and how easily adaptable their way of life is because there is always someone there to assist you with your needs,” Willie reported.

She was also impressed by the fact that each institution has an international student office dedicated to helping international students navigate their new educational experience, so that they can easily integrate into the Canadian culture.

“Studying abroad has always been an option for my students, but the first-hand knowledge I have gained from actually visiting these colleges and universities will now allow me to provide them with facts, better connections, new possibilities, and diverse opportunities in order for them to ignite their future. Take for example the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Its educational opportunities go beyond traditional boundaries as they create and combine hands-on learning with an innovative, technology-enriched learning environment. The colleges support students in all aspects of their campus lives. This includes academic, personal, and professional success. My students will now be more at ease when making the choice of studying in Canada as I can truthfully tell them what is factual based on my actual visit,” said Willie.

The ladies were accompanied on the August 7-12 tour by trade commissioner of the Canadian High Commission in Jamaica Yasmin Chong, to whom they expressed appreciation for the opportunity.

It was the second iteration of what is now an annual fixture.




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