The four months she spent surrounded by abject poverty, with no hot running water and hand-washed laundry was the best part of Kimberly Dyck's university education.
The experiences of Dyck, an Education student who went to India as part of the Term Abroad Program in the fall of 2003, are echoed by many students who participate in the range of study abroad programs offered through the International Student Centre at the University of Calgary.
"We were learning about the culture while we were there," said Dyck. "It's that kind of learning that actually sticks with you."
Dyck said the most powerful experience on her term abroad was when she made the trek to Varanasi, a Hindi holy city, which she described as a Hindu equivalent to the Muslim Mecca.
"Most Hindis go there at least once in their lifetime," explained Dyck. "Lots go there to die. They get cremated there and put their ashes in the Ganges River."
"There are people cremated there, but both upstream and downstream there are people bathing and brushing their teeth. There are elderly people just collecting money for their wood so they can be cremated--until they have enough to die."
The Term Abroad Program is one of three main programs offered through the ISC. The term abroad lasts three to four months and allows students to take classes in English with other U of C students for a semester. Term abroad is offered in China and Prague in addition to the India program.
The ISC also administers a field study where a group of U of C students travel together during either the spring or summer semester and are taught by a U of C professor. Examples include a Latin American Studies field school in Mexico.
The final option is the traditional exchange where students live and study in another country for either one or two semesters.
ISC Executive Director Student Diversity and Access Glynn Hunter explained that not everyone who goes to India enjoys it as much as Dyck did. Many students experience culture shock and the combination of the food, intense heat, flys, poverty and a more formal teaching style may be difficult to adapt to.
"In daily life--just walking around--it's so different," explained Hunter. "Students expect things to be different but they don't know just how different they are. There are some students who are ready to embrace the change and roll with it. There are other students who focus on the Canadian way and the 'I don't do this at home.'"
Students who are ready to put their independence to the test may be more interested in a less structured exchange, according to ISC Study Abroad Advisor Colleen Packer.
"Exchanges are not a group program," said Packer. "You may be the only U of C student at that university. Students can go for a semester or for an entire year. You can pick how long you go for."
No program fees on exchanges also means students are responsible for all their own day-to-day living like finding and paying for housing, meals and day-to-day activities around campus.
The university has agreements with more than 40 universities in more than 20 countries around the world, which means students on exchanges pay U of C tuition, which is much cheaper than foreign student rates.
"The exchange agreement is mostly a financial agreement," said Packer. "It's really beneficial in most cases. Without the agreement, school would cost about $7,500 per year in Australia or $10,000 per year in Britain."
Fifth year Political Science student Auvniet Tehara went on an exchange to Nottingham, England in September 2003 for two semesters and came back with friends around the world and some interesting British slang in her vocabulary.
"My favourite slang is 'taking the piss' or maybe 'on the pull,'" laughed Tehara. "I still used it when I got back because I was in denial that I was back in Canada."
For those not well versed in British slang, "taking the piss" means joking with or teasing. "On the pull" would be the equivalent of a Canadian looking to get lucky or trying to hit on someone.
Tehara was the first U of C student to go on an exchange to Nottingham, and said the experience was a very positive one even though adapting to the British style of education was a challenge.
"It was a different attitude towards education," said Tehara. "You're required to think on your feet more and you need personal time management. It's more self-directed learning and more theory based. I learned a lot and took courses that weren't offered at the U of C."
Students looking for adventures abroad or just looking for a little more information can attend a free Study Abroad 101 session in the ISC. The 45-minute sessions run Tuesdays at 2 p.m., Wednesdays at 11 a.m. and Thursdays at 1 p.m.
Deadlines for applications for each program vary. The general exchange program application deadline is January 13 for any time in the Summer, Fall or Winter of the 2006-07 academic year.