Jan. 10, 2024

Study abroad course in Spain 'unlike any school experience you can imagine'

Immersive experiential learning brings together students from across campus
A group of diverse students pose for a selfie on a beach in Spain.
Jordan Christopher-Shah, left, and Darby Link, centre, in pink, were part of a spring study abroad program in 2023 called Food Culture in Spain. Courtesy Darby Link

Combining a love for travel with academics seems like a natural fit. After all, immersing yourself in a new place can be a rich learning experience. Study abroad programs offer students the opportunity to enrich their time in university with real experiential learning.

Recent graduate Jordan Christopher-Shah, BEng'23, delayed his own convocation to take part in one such study abroad program. Food Culture in Spain ran in the spring of 2023 and combined two communications studies courses into a month-long learning experience. As an engineering student, this was one of only a few courses that he took outside of his engineering program.

A young student with an afro stands on a garden pathway under an arch filled with plants.

Jordan Christopher-Shah was awarded money through the Global Access Fund to participate in the program in Spain.

Courtesy Jordan Christopher-Shah

"It was a completely different world from most of the classes I was used to. It was kind of cool to switch it up, especially at the end of my degree. It was almost refreshing to get a totally different taste to what I was studying," says Christopher-Shah.

He says that going through a course like this was invaluable in growing his ability to reflect on experiences and tie them to larger concepts — a practical skill for him both as an engineer and as a budding musician.

"It made me more open to diving into things that are totally new and unknown to me."

"And helps give me the tools to actually take value out of those situations and learn from them as opposed to just being an observer, actually engaging with these new concepts and cultures and people. Just being able to really embrace learning from new experiences was an essential part of the trip and something I will carry forward into pretty much every aspect of my life."

A closeup of a beautiful plate of food styled with flowers and herbs around the edges and a small plate in the centre.

Darby Link says learning about foodways in Spain helped her to connect back to her own personal food culture.

Courtesy Darby Link

Darby Link, a second-year Werklund School of Education student, was in Spain with Christopher-Shah and echoes the value of the experience.

"It's so important for an educator to involve students, especially from my perspective as someone who does want to teach people. It was really valuable to be reminded that those hands-on, in-person experiences can change the way we learn and have such a deeper meaning," says Link.

For Link, learning about food culture in Spain connected her to her own family food history. She was reminded of a Mennonite food blog her family loves that filled a gap of family recipes after her grandmother's death.

"Through taking apart what it means to have a food culture and food ways I got to look at my own personal history and relate back to my own family and experience. This course helped me to reconnect to that in a positive way."

Jumping into a 300-level course as a first-year student was intimidating, Link says, but the support of her classmates and Faculty of Arts professor Dr. Lisa Stowe was encouraging.

"It was really unlike any school experience you can imagine. It's kind of like going on a field trip. And as much as that is kind of true, once you actually get there it's not like an average school experience. You have a lot of independence and you find your place among the group that you are there with."

Both Christopher-Shah and Link encourage any student thinking of applying for an experiential learning or study abroad opportunity to just go for it.

"It opened my eyes to the opportunities that UCalgary has. We're so fortunate to have all these offices that are trying to get students to have these amazing experiences. And you are capable! Even if you think there are reasons you can't do it, there are so many opportunities so just keep looking," says Link.

Limited spaces are still available for students interested in spring/summer 2024 study abroad opportunities. Learn more

The Office of Experiential Learning leads initiatives to enhance experiential learning in partnership with teams across campus and in alignment with UCalgary’s bold goal of providing all students with opportunities to enhance their academic experience through practical, hands-on learning.

Share your stories about experiential learning by getting in touch with our team at experientiallearning@ucalgary.ca.

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