I have to say, I was not sure at first, not at all. While visiting Chile was definitely of interest, participating in a mission that comprised almost all university representatives (initially), had me questioning where the priorities of a small, remote college would fit. Would the Canadian participants, never mind our Chilean hosts, even know where Thunder Bay is located? It was a reasonable question.
Confederation College’s interest in visiting Chile stemmed from our longstanding relationship with the Chilean Ministry of Education. Several years ago, we navigated through a mire of bureaucratic red tape, and, as a result, have since received scholarship students every year. They are a welcome addition to our international student body and contribute to our challenging goal of diversity on campus.
Under the present Chilean government, the old scholarship program came to an end and discussions were under way to redesign a new program. I was eager to have some input, but one meeting was hardly enough to warrant an independent trip to Chile. CBIE’s outreach regarding an upcoming mission to Chile therefore piqued my interest.
Perhaps I could join the mission, and in the process expand my objectives: learn more about developments in post-secondary education in Chile; meet existing partners; have some separate meetings with government officials; and perhaps explore best practices in indigenous education, given Confederation’s commitment and leadership in this area. Several conversations ensued with CBIE, where I was assured that every effort would be made to meet these objectives, regardless of the composition of the delegation. I agreed to participate.
In the end, four universities, three colleges and one polytechnic participated in the mission, coming from across eastern Canada and representing English and French-speaking institutions. We were a collegial group of good-humoured, seasoned travelers, who were respectful of each other and interested in each other’s work and realities. That was indeed a pleasure, as none of these attributes are a guarantee on any international mission. I enjoyed learning about each institution. When it comes to international education, we have much in common despite our differences in size, focus, and priorities.
Reflecting back on the outcome of the mission, I can say that my objectives were indeed met. The staff of CBIE did an excellent job arranging an itinerary that comprised a balance of locations and appointments to ensure that, by the end of the week, each participant had met with Chilean counterparts who were a good fit for their institution.
There was an unexpected outcome, however, that was also very valuable from my perspective. Our Chilean hosts (and there were many of them), were given a range of presentations that provided a solid appreciation of the scale and structure of Canada’s post-secondary education sector. They also learned how well our system serves students, in terms of academic options, pathways and career choices….and everyone on the mission knew that Confederation College serves an area the size of France, and that Thunder Bay is located 1,500 km northwest of Toronto!
Miriam Wall is the Dean of International Education at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ontario.