This post was written by Patrick Hamer-Meunier. He’s a SABF Delegate at Queen’s University in Canada.

patrick.jpgHow does one Empower Agents of Change? People say that any person can make a difference in the world, and I agree. However, often it can be a lot more effective to spur change through acting collectively in groups. And what better group is there than a collection of people from around the world, each with their own unique ideals? From this perspective, one could argue that Empowering Agents of Change can be most effective when a group of people from around the world work together to achieve a common goal – working towards the improvement of the South American economy for example.

The key to collective success comes from international awareness. How can people from around the world help each other if they don’t even know what’s happening outside their own borders? Yes, keeping up to date with international news helps improve this awareness, but there’s nothing quite like experiencing different and unique cultures for yourself, critically assessing the possibilities for improvement. That’s why I believe international opportunities are so important in influencing change. If we all knew a bit more about the world that we lived in, maybe we would be more inspired to change it for the better. In this post I will focus on the importance Canadians place upon these various opportunities at the university level, particularly international exchanges – giving you all an insight into the opportunities available to many Canadian university students.

One of the most popular international opportunities here in Canada are international exchanges. As I have recently been selected to go on exchange next year to study in Barcelona, Spain, I will focus my discussion on this area. In my own university, students from various different backgrounds and departments are encouraged to attend an international institution on exchange anywhere from a full semester to an entire school year in duration. This is particularly evident in the Business Faculty, where over 80% of the class (approximately 240 people) will be going on exchange next year. Students typically go during their third year of studies in an undergraduate degree, gaining the wonderful opportunity to experience what it’s like to adapt and live in a different country. Students have the choice of applying to a variety of different universities around the world – however, most are concentrated in Europe and Asia. Sadly, my university has few partnerships with South American institutions, which in my experience, often tends to be the case in Canadian universities. Although students have the opportunity of attending non-partner universities on exchange, it is a far more complicated process and tends to be a rare occurrence. That being said, the current system is a very good one that really offers students the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective, which ultimately increases the likelihood of worldwide change and collaboration.

As you all know by being on this site, international conferences and forums are also a great opportunity to gain international exposure – they certainly offer similar benefits to international exchanges and in a much smaller time frame. However, I can honestly say that in my experience, these types of conferences are not promoted nearly as much in Canada. There are countless national conferences, but choices become limited when considering international conferences like the SABF. In fact, only three examples come to mind when thinking of recently promoted international conferences at my university, with the SABF being the only one located in South America (the other two being in Europe).

With that being said, I would now like to open the floor to all of you to get an idea of your thoughts on the topic. What kind of international opportunities are promoted at your university or in your country as a whole? Are these kinds of opportunities encouraged? How about international conferences like the SABF?