Tanya Andrew

What was the purpose of your trip?

The purpose of my travel was to learn about how European universities support learning that happens beyond the classroom. Attending university provides such a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow as a person, it is a time to make new friends, learn from mistakes, celebrate successes, and discover yourself and the world around you. I am happy to say this trip enhanced my knowledge and expertise in helping students along this journey. 

Where did you go?

The first week I visited ETH Zurich in Zurich, Switzerland. My second week was spent at La Sapienza in Rome, Italy and my third week was Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in Madrid, Spain. I chose these three schools as they are strong partners with the University of Waterloo.

What are the similarities in European university education versus Canadian university education?

There are many similarities between European university education and Canadian university education. They offer hands-on learning balanced with theory, engaging lectures, a variety of tools to test knowledge (quizzes, assignments, exams, and labs), four year degree programs, etc. These similarities however, have only been in place for the last few years as Europe is undergoing a huge transition. In 1999, ministers of education from twenty nine countries in Europe came together in Bologna, Italy to create the Bologna Declaration. 

There are three main goals of the Bologna Declaration:

  1. Facilitate mobility of students, graduates and higher education staff
  2. Prepare students for their future careers and for life as active citizens in democratic societies, and support their personal development
  3. Offer broad access to high-quality higher education, based on democratic principles and academic freedom.

Today this declaration unites forty seven European countries. 

I was very excited to learn about the Bologna Process as its second main goal, was the focus of my visit to Europe. 

How do the universities you visited prepare students for their future careers and for life as active citizens in democratic societies, and support their personal development?

ETH Zurich in Zurich, Switzerland:

  • Grade twelve high school students have the opportunity to meet and work with an ETH Zurich professor. The team is responsible for creating an original idea and presenting it at a career fair, which is judged by ETH staff. In Switzerland it is believed that “students experiencing the university community before arrival is the best way to bridge the transition gap.” 
  • The counselling office is located off campus (for privacy reasons) in-between the ETH Zurich campus and the University of Zurich campus. The department serves students from both institutions. 
  • The orientation teams, alumni and professors collaboratively run a program called ‘ETH on the Road’ where they travel to high schools all over Switzerland to answer questions about ETH programs and assist high school teachers in preparing their students for university. In Switzerland, recruitment of students is everyone’s responsibility.
  • The coaching team provides workshops and 1:1 meetings to help students build and/ or polish their academic and life skills.  
  • A group of ETH Zurich students run a student helpline called Nightline. All ETH Zurich and University of Zurich students can call in and talk to one of their peers about difficulties or challenges. The group is closely connected with a counselling agency in Zurich.

La Sapienza in Rome, Italy:

  • At La Sapienza there is an emphasis in university culture that strength come from being resilient, not in the lack of mistakes or potential failures. 
  • The programs that require an entrance exam offer two week long overnight camps leading up to the exam day. In these two weeks, students spend their time learning how to study, the importance of life balance, time management, and study strategies. Professors are available during the two weeks to provide support and clarity around program material
  • Over fifty students are hired to be orientation leaders for the month of September. They walk around campus wearing “ask me” t-shirts and stand at “ask me” booths set up all over campus for first year students to find answers and support. 
  • La Sapienza has two offices in the middle of the campus called Hello (for English speakers) and Ciao (for Italian speakers). These offices serve as a main information hub for students to go and ask any question about the university or their program. If the office is unable to answer the question, the department will know where to send the student to find the answer.
  • At La Sapienza there is a general understanding that those who attend university are privileged. The students are therefore responsible for sharing the knowledge they acquire as well as working towards being well rounded individuals in society.

Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in Madrid, Spain:

  • The ‘Buddy Program’ is a peer program, where the university matches a first year student with a senior student and a faculty member. The group of three meets frequently throughout the term to discuss challenges and celebrate growth together when victories are made. 
  • The Counselling Office provides a program called ‘Personal Improvement’ that discuss important skills like resilience, leadership and stress management.
  • The importance of life balance is a message that is embedded not only in the university culture, but in Spain itself. It is understood that one cannot be productive without taking time to also have fun and enjoy life’s abundance. 
  • Sessions are held for professors to promote the importance of believing in your students, motivating students, engaging curiosity, and encouraging participation and cooperation in the class setting to inspire holistic learning.  
  • In Spain, there are great connections between professionals internally and those in other universities across the country.  This allowed great collaboration and sharing of resources across the country.

What have your learned that will change how you do your job?

Many of the programs and resources listed above are already in motion at the University of Waterloo, with full credit going to the wonderful staff and faculty who care so deeply about student development.

One of the main learning points for me was the opportunity to work together in support of our students. It is very easy to put my head down when working on a project and not think about who else would be helpful to have at the table. What expertise do I have access to in the offices I work (I have such wonderful colleagues)? Who do I know (or can I get to know) at other colleges and universities who have had success in the type of project I am looking to initiate? When we as a university work together, the community as a whole benefits.

Was your trip personally rewarding?

This trip was unlike any other as I was able see glimpses of these countries as a local. I met such wonderful people, participated in amazing cultural traditions and ate the most incredible (authentic) foods imaginable.

One of my favourite days was when I toured ETH Zurich with a senior student tour guide. He showed me the “american style campus” Honggerberg, told stories about his experiences as a student, and showed me his favourite place on campus - a relax room where students can go and have a nap and even get a massage in between classes. I am not joking, this room does exist.     

The trip was as they say in Italy “like an egg”, which means “quick and good.” The weeks sped by with every day being an adventure of its own. Thank-you to Waterloo International for this amazing opportunity.