Okanagan College’s Grace Oswald and Kira Johnson are among 29 students in British Columbia that are fulfilling their dreams of studying abroad thanks to the Irving K. Barber Premier’s International Scholarship which awards students between $6,000 and $10,000.
“I’m supporting myself through school so winning the award was big news,” says Oswald who was awarded $7,500. “It’s the biggest scholarship I’ve ever won and I feel like I’ve got financial freedom to take in more of the culture now.”
Oswald is currently preparing to embark on an exchange program to Finland in January where she will study for six months at Jyväskylän University of Applied Science. The scholarship money is helping her realize a future in the tourism industry.
Growing up in Milk River, a small town in southern Alberta and notably home to the Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Oswald found a passion for meeting new people and experiencing other cultures at a young age.
“I grew up next to the park and worked at its visitor centre which is actually the first point of contact in Alberta from the U.S. border, so I got to talk to Americans all day long about interesting things to see in the province and Canada in general,” says Oswald. “It was the best job I’ve ever had and made me realize how much I love talking with people and having the opportunity to be an ambassador of my country and help influence people’s experiences.”
Oswald’s zest for people and tourism quickly led her to enrol in Okanagan College’s Bachelor of Business Administration program in Tourism and Hospitality Management.
“I knew this was the right career path for me and I think one of the best ways to truly understand tourism is to become a tourist yourself – which is why I wanted to study abroad so badly,” says Oswald.
Okanagan College has exchange partnerships with 22 post-secondary institutions in 16 different countries spanning four continents – a draw that attracts many students, including Kira Johnson.
Johnson, like Oswald, is also working towards her Bachelor of Business Administration degree. She was awarded the maximum scholarship amount of $10,000 to help complete her third year of study in Germany at the Berlin School of Economics and Law.
For Johnson, studying abroad has been a long-time goal as her aspiration is to work in the international education field.
“I’ve been involved with international education since high school,” says Johnson. “I started working alongside my school districts International Coordinator and even developed a program called The Peace Program that helps exchange students make friendships with local students and helps Canadian students make international friendships.”
Johnson loves the Germanic lifestyle and language and is keen to learn how post-secondary institutions in Germany go about promoting their international exchange programs.
“When I graduate I’d like to work as an International Coordinator for a school district or a post-secondary institution,” says Johnson. “So I’m really interested in seeing how Germany encourages their students to study abroad and bring that information back to Canada.”
By being an international student Johnson is hoping to get a deeper understanding of international education.
“You’d be surprised that some of the most difficult things about being an international student are actually some of the smallest things like returning an item to a store, opening a bank account or finding a cell phone plan,” explains Johnson. “I’m hoping that by experiencing these challenges first hand, I’ll be in a better place to help other international exchange students in the future.”
Thanks to the financial award, Johnson will get the opportunity to explore Germany’s exchange programs, travel to different cities and take in more experiences outside of the classroom.