Group of students sitting on stairs made of rock in front of an old stone tower with tall trees in the foreground.

Beyond the classroom: UTM Abroad gives students an immersive international experience

Kate Martin

There’s only so much you can learn about the world from a book.

If you ask the participants of the UTM Abroad program, the best teacher is simply being there.

“I would definitely recommend it to any student who is willing and able to go,” says Yana Jacobs, a third-year psychology and biology student who travelled to Peru during spring reading week this year. She spent 10 days learning about different medical systems as she trains toward a career in healthcare. “(UTM Abroad) will enhance your academic career, give you new experiences and new friends and connections with great faculty members. It’s something that enhances every student’s academic career and life so profoundly.”

The trips, organized by the university, are designed to fit in during study breaks. This fall students will visit Italy, Iceland and Ecuador. One fee covers flights, transportation, accommodation, meals and in-country activities (bursaries, which donors can contribute to, are available  to help make UTM Abroad experiences financially accessible). Students also travel with a UTM staff member who Is trained in crisis response and first aid, to support health and well-being abroad.

Having a support network was a key deciding factor for criminology, law and society student Mikaela Clarke.

“I was a bit afraid to visit some parts of the world,” says Clarke, who was part of the trip which travelled to Cambodia for 10 days in February. “Visiting Asia, for example, I thought was somewhere where I would stand out too much, but when I went on this trip I felt so welcome. I got to learn from different people and I realized even if I did stick out, that wasn’t a bad thing.”

The UTM Abroad program is split into two streams:

  • Co-curricular Experiences, open to all UTM students in good academic standing (minimum 1.5 CGPA) regardless of program or year of study
  • Academic Experiences, for students enrolled in a corresponding course  
Four students standing in a tropical forest. One has a pair of binoculars around her neck as she watches the other three mount a camera with a long lens to a tripod.
UTM biology students had an opportunity to visit Ecuador in 2022 through the UTM Abroad program. (Photo supplied)

Hamza Bin-Waheed, who recently received a bachelor of commerce, became involved with UTM Abroad through his enrolment in ITA233, Italian Culture through Fashion, and ITA235, Italian Culture through Food.

“Before this, when you talked to me about where I wanted to work I would have said Toronto, New York or Chicago, but now European financial centres, I think about those as well,” says Bin-Waheed, who spent three days each in Florence, Bologna and Rome during reading week in October 2022. “Even though we were only there for nine days, there is now that sense of familiarity that makes me think about them, and Italy in particular.”

He says he was attracted to the UTM Abroad mission to travel with intention, expand global awareness and learn about himself, his skills and his future.       

“As a child growing up in Pakistan, I used to love watching National Geographic and imagining how it would be to go over there,” he says. “I would never have thought I would have the opportunity to go there.”     

Bin-Waheed, who recently shared his UTM Abroad experiences at a UTM Campus Council meeting, says having the exploration backed by UTM made the global learning opportunity much more accessible for many participants.

“A lot of students with us, it may be their first time travelling without family or travelling alone,” he says. “This was a very balanced experience for the students to learn about their course work in a setting that is global, but truly local, and have that supportive aspect as well. I’m very happy I participated.”

Jacobs, whose experience in Peru included visits to hospitals in larger cities and clinics in isolated communities aiding agricultural workers without health insurance, agrees.

“It opened my mind up to different areas of healthcare that I am now interested in,” she says. “It taught me a lot about medicinal plants and it was great to see how the Peruvian medical system works.”

She says it gave her knowledge she could never have gained in a classroom alone.

“We stayed with a small village community in San Roque and they were so welcoming and so kind and so willing to open up their social circles, their homes, their land with us,” she says. "I was so truly grateful to them.”

Clarke says her time in Cambodia was “life changing.”

“We actually immersed ourselves into the culture,” she says. “I want to see if I can work travel into my research or teaching in the future. It’s making me think about how I can have more experiences like this. I think it could be life changing for a lot of people. I’m so glad I participated. It’s probably the favourite thing I did in my university experience.”

In winter 2024, the UTM Abroad program will be travelling to Cambodia and Peru once again, as well as Dominican Republic, Britain (London) and France (Paris). Applications through the UTM Abroad Portal are due by the end of September. For more information, email

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