A world of new experiences
From studying abroad for a year to attending conferences around the world, international opportunities give learners the experience and perspective they need to be come global leaders
By Jesica Hurst, BA’14
“It was like nothing I had ever seen before,” said Dr. Kelsey Li, DDS’16, as she described the scenery that surrounded her when she arrived in a tiny, rural town in Bên Tre, Vietnam. The walls of the houses and schools were made of cement, and the simple electricity that ran through the town could not even provide light to the residents.
It was the summer of 2014, and Dr. Li and her classmate, Dr. Maxine How, DDS’16, would be spending the next 10 days in the area, providing Vietnamese children with dental services—giving them thorough cleanings, teaching them how to maintain their oral hygiene and performing extractions when necessary.
Dr. Li explained she and How learned about this summer volunteer opportunity through a non-profit organization in Vietnam. The dental students were interested in an international experience in a rural setting to see how dentistry was practised in the most remote areas of the world—not just in London, Ontario where they were training.
“Going into this experience, I was certain I would gain a lot but I didn’t realize that it would change my life in the way it did,” Dr. Li said. “Having the opportunity to treat young patients who have never seen a dentist before and do not have the same language or cultural background as me was challenging, but it really gave me perspective that I will take into my career as a dentist.”
“Going into this experience, I was certain I would gain a lot but I didn’t realize that it would change my life in the way it did.” —Dr. Kelsey Li, DDS’16
Even though Dr. Li and How found out about this international opportunity on their own, most students and trainees at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry find out about opportunities by utilizing the resources available to them through the School’s Internationalization Office and Western International.
That is what Michelle Quaye, BMSc’16, did when she made the decision to participate in an international opportunity during her third year of study. “After taking part in a short exchange to India during high school, I knew I eventually wanted to gain more global experiences,” Quaye said. “I discovered that Western University has one-year exchanges available all over the world, which seemed like an incredible opportunity.”
Quaye was accepted to study at King’s College London in England. She worked with an academic advisor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry to determine the courses required to stay on track for graduation. The experience required a lot of hard work and planning. However, by staying patient and flexible, Quaye completed all the necessary courses.
“This international experience showed me the importance of being a global citizen and making global connections,” Quaye said. “I now know that in my future career as a physician, I will not just stay in one place. I see the value in exploring opportunities outside of Canada and immersing myself in different cultures.”
The opportunity to work with local people in an international setting was really eye-opening. It was so beneficial on a personal and professional level. I’m inspired to seek out more global health opportunities.”
—Jessamyn Little, Medicine Class of 2017
Jessamyn Little, Medicine Class of 2017, had similar goals to Quaye when she began her search for an international experience. She wanted to be able to experience a different culture—she didn’t want to skim the surface.
She contacted the Internationalization Office to learn about the summer opportunities available and was put in touch with Dr. Arlene MacDougall, a clinicianresearcher in Psychiatry. Little was interested in taking part in Dr. MacDougall’s initiative Community REcovery Achieved Through Entrepreneurism (CREATE) in Kenya. She was granted a Global Research Opportunities in Health Award, allowing her to work on the project throughout the summer of 2015.
“The opportunity to work with local people in an international setting was really eye-opening,” Little said. “It was so beneficial on a personal and professional level. I’m inspired to seek out more global health opportunities.”
Throughout his graduate training, Ayden Scheim, PhD Candidate, a Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation Scholar and Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar, has travelled to a number of different countries to attend and present at conferences, including Australia and Malaysia. “When I’ve travelled to the other side of the world, I’ve ended up networking and meeting people who have since become collaborators on my research,” he explained. “We would have never met if I didn’t travel to those places.”
The young scholar explained it is easy for PhD candidates in particular to become so focused on their research projects that they never dedicate time to exploring opportunities outside of their lab, or London, Ontario. He explained this can make it difficult to stay motivated about your own work.
“If you aren’t taking part in international experiences, you don’t have as much of a sense about what other people in your field are doing,” he said. “I think it’s very important to become a part of the global research community by sharing your research and learning about the research being undertaken all over the world.” Scheim also said he sees a lot of students and trainees holding back from international opportunities because they do not feel they are ready to take part in them. He disagrees.
“I feel like sometimes students and trainees wait to take part in international conferences and other global experiences because they feel they are not ready,” he said. “My advice is to take part in these international opportunities as early and often as you can. If you wait, you could be missing out on years of experiences that could truly help you in your personal and professional life.”