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A taste of Canadian culture and politics

"Australian students participating in Queen’s Political Studies Summer Institute hold a Canadian flag as they stand in front of Niagara Falls"
Students from Australian National University participating in Queen’s Political Studies Summer Institute (QPSSI) hold a Canadian flag as they visit Niagara Falls. (Supplied Photo)

An innovative program in Canada, Queen’s Political Studies Summer Institute (QPSSI) recently welcomed 10 students from Australian National University (ANU) to participate in a hands-on learning experience, studying the political landscape of Canada.

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The program, now in its second year, was developed by Jonathan Rose (Political Studies) and master’s student, Elisha Corbett.

“QPSSI is truly a unique experience because it is the first political studies institute in Canada. It’s also unique compared to other political studies institutes in North America in that its primary learning objective is a hands-on learning experience,” says Ms. Corbett.

The program, which ran this summer from June 30 to July 15, combined a lecture-style education with the benefits of interactive learning through field trips that complemented the material. The students learned about the Canadian political system before being taken on a parliamentary tour of Ottawa, and likewise were versed in Quebec nationalism before visiting Old Montreal. At the completion of the program, students return to their home institution with the equivalent of a Queen’s one term credit in Canadian Politics.

“After doing research on other summer institute programs in Canada, I realized they all lacked the fundamental component of experiencing Canada in a hands-on way,” says Ms. Corbett, “I felt compelled to create a program where Canada’s unique narrative and history could be learned without a textbook.”

The benefits of experiential learning in a cross-cultural capacity are not lost on the student participants.

“Because I have always lived in Australia, as much as I would like to say I’m well versed in the world, my world view is somewhat narrow,” says Kelvin Chen, a first-year political science and philosophy major from ANU and participant in this summer’s QPSSI program. “This program fit well into my university agenda in terms of being able to expand my world view along the lines of my academic and personal growth pursuits.”

“What attracted me most to this program was the cultural experience and knowing that a cross-cultural exchange is the best way to understand a new culture, through immersion,” adds Leah Huang, another ANU participant.

Of particular interest to the students was the first hand contact with Canada’s binational culture.

“As an Australian, it’s very interesting to me that both Canada and Australia are remnants of the British Commonwealth and so I was excited to draw the similarities of our cultures. What surprised me was the strength of the francophone culture in Canada. It was interesting to see the contrast of francophone and anglophone culture in one country. That was a bit of a culture shock,” says Mr. Chen.

“I understand Canada’s French and British colonial differences, but Canada has been federated for 150 years now, so the fact that Quebecers are so patriotic about their French heritage is very unique, I believe,” agrees Ms. Huang.

Ultimately, what Ms. Corbett and her team hope for the program is that the students come away with not just a credit, but a renewed idea of what Canada is and how Canadian politics work.

“I hope that the program challenges their preconceived notions of Canada,” says Emilio Frometa, a master’s student in Queen’s Industrial Relations and a QPSSI staff member. “Although Canada as a whole has its divides, we are blessed to be blanketed on the world stage by a narrative of Canada as a friendly peace-keeping nation. It’s important to really learn about and engage with the institutions of Canada as a unique country and not just a stereotype, and my hope is that the students form their own opinions about Canadian politics and Canada’s role in the world.”

More information on the institute and its programming, is available online.

Internationalization is one of the four pillars of the Queen’s University Strategic Framework 2014–2019. The Comprehensive International Plan was launched in August 2015 to help the university build on its international strengths and direct future internationalization efforts. The plan’s goals include strengthening Queen’s international research engagement and creating more opportunities for student mobility through academic exchange and study-abroad programs. The plan also aims to attract high-quality international students to Queen’s and to increase international educational opportunities on Queen’s campus. Learn more on the International website.