Sept. 25, 2023

UCalgary students embark on inspiring global journey with Global Indigenous Skills fund

Cultural immersion and exploration in Japan, Mexico and Nepal
Japan group study students
Japan group study students prepared a sashimi boat for dinner in Shiraoi. Ayesha Rashid, second from left

In a dynamic fusion of cultural exploration and global education, UCalgary students embarked on a transformative experiential learning journey this past spring and summer. A trio of group study programs, supported by the Global Indigenous Skills (GIS) fund, transported students to diverse corners of the world, from the vibrant streets of Mexico City to the enchanting landscapes of Hokkaido and virtually to the heartwarming communities of Nepal.

The GIS is funded by Global Skills Opportunity (GSO) — the Government of Canada’s Outbound Student Mobility Pilot Program. Its aim is to invest in global skills for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, cultivating leadership, identity awareness, and global networks related to Indigenous ways of knowing, doing, connecting, and being. 

The program enabled the 10 undergraduate students in Dr. Amelia Kiddle’s group study program, Mexico City: Past and Present, to participate in this experiential learning opportunity.

“Several of the students might not have had the opportunity to study abroad were it not for this program, which provided them with scholarships that supported their tuition and travel costs. As a result, students were able to learn about the history of Mexico City in Mexico City,” says Kiddle, PhD, associate professor of history.

“The intensive seminar-style class (HTST 410.02 Topics in Great Cities of the World: Mexico City) immersed students in the history and culture of one of the largest cities in the world, helping them to gain insights that were relevant to their programs, from history and international Indigenous studies to communications and computer science. It was an enriching learning experience and loads of fun.”

Mexico City

Mexico City: Past and Present program participants enjoying the sights in Mexico City.

Amelia Kiddle

Undergraduates Carolyn Horwood and Ayesha Rashid took part in the Community Building Through Meaningful Collaboration program in Japan. The program focused on collaboration efforts between Ainu people — the Indigenous Peoples to the northern island of Hokkaido in Japan — and Japanese people. Their journey took them through several areas in Hokkaido, including two towns, Nibutani and Shiraoi, and the city of Sapporo.

“In the town of Nibutani we were fortunate enough to be staying on the farm of an Ainu man and his family,” says Horwood, BHSc Honours, Health and Society; BA, International Indigenous Studies; and member of the Scholars Academy Program.

“The final night of our stay there, he and one of his friends performed a traditional Ainu dance for us. The dance, used for a ceremony related to deities, was incredible to watch. Both men used swords and, at one point in the dance, ‘fought’ each other in a choreographed sequence. It was beautiful to witness.

“I was surprised by some of the different cultural norms in Japan, and how consistently everybody follows them. For example, leaving one lane open on staircases to allow people in a rush to run up them, while people walking more leisurely stick to the side. I was also both surprised and impressed at how efficient the transit and train systems in Japan are — even in the smaller towns!”

Shinto ceremony

Carolyn Horwood joined an alpine club in the town of Shiraoi to climb to the top of a famous mountain, Mount Horohoro, and was lucky enough to witness a Shinto ceremony to mark the opening of the hiking season.

“The best part of this experience for me was being able to live, eat, and interact among the locals of both the countryside and cities. This provided me with chances to practice my Japanese language skills and learn from the citizens through first-hand experience,” says Rashid, BSc, Biological Anthropology.

“I really enjoyed having home-cooked and traditional meals, living in traditional settings, and learning the mannerisms and cultural norms amongst the communities. I have also learned lessons from my trip about collaboration with my peers and people around the globe, learning about how to respect other cultures while still holding true to my cultural roots, and engaging in new and sometimes uncomfortable things to truly draw out the essence from an experience.” 

Students who took part in the Community and Sustainable Development in Nepal were able to do so virtually. The online course offered an applied field study of the sustainable development goals in a Nepalese context. Using data and recordings from Nepal, they explored topics related to social justice, development, and change, through a social work lens. Virtual global experiences like these support students’ growth in collaboration, communication across time zones, and professional development for the complex globalized career world.

“Group study programs provide students with integral real world experience, enhancing their leadership and intercultural capacity, essential for both professional, and personal growth,” says Janaka Ruwanpura, vice-provost and associate vice-president research (international).

The Global Skills Opportunity funding has made it possible for eligible students in our UCalgary community to receive up to $10,000 for global learning opportunities. I encourage students to explore upcoming experiences made possible by the fund.

Recruitment is currently open for winter 2024 exchanges to Curtin University and the University of Newcastle, with more opportunities being added shortly. For more information on this scholarship and other funding opportunities visit Study Abroad Funding Opportunities.

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