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Planning an international experience

The International Planning Project course provides SURP students with an experiential learning opportunity in India.

  • Group discussion with Village Elders from Edayanchavadi regarding tourism impacts and their community
    School of Urban and Regional Planning students hold a group discussion with village elders from Edayanchavadi regarding tourism impacts and their community. (Supplied Photo)
  • Students work an information kiosk
    International Planning Course team members work at an information kiosk located at the Visitors Centre in Auroville, India. (Supplied Photo)
  • Team picture at the Matrimandir
    The School of Urban and Regional Planning team members for the International Planning Course gather at the Matrimandir in the Indian city of Auroville. (Supplied Photo)

Adaptability and flexibility, preparation and communication, stress management and staying in the moment.

A group of students from the School of Urban and Regional Planning who recently took part in the International Planning Project course (SURP 827) gained a world of experience and learned valuable lessons as they traveled to India for two weeks to create a project report of professional quality for the community of Auroville.

The course is a collaborative challenge that tests the students’ resilience and abilities, but, at the same time, provides an opportunity to develop new skills and knowledge as they look to their future careers as planners.

“Project wise, in general, it’s nice to actually get the experience working for a client. You have a strict deadline that you have to meet and then you are also challenging yourself because you have traveled to get there and you’re maybe a bit jetlagged,” says Carling Fraser, one of the eight members of the Queen’s team. “It’s a totally different environment that you are not used to. It was a real experience and there’s another layer to it when you are in a different cultural environment and you are still expected to keep to your deadlines and adapt pretty quickly.”

Preparations are key for the planning course.

Starting in September, the student team, which this year happened to be entirely female, had 12 weeks to conduct advance research, collect information, and make initial contacts before heading to India in early December.

The team then had two weeks to gather information and develop a tourism management plan to be presented both in Auroville and back at Queen’s.

Arriving after a 30-hour flight and a three-hour drive, the team quickly got to work on the first day. The first week is primarily filled with gathering information on the ground, analyzing, and making adjustments before preparing the report and making the final presentation.

It’s a whirlwind of activity and no one can do it alone. Some of the major tools that come out of the experience, says project manager Natalie Armstrong, are teamwork, adaptability, and communication skills.

“We are there with each other as a group 24/7 for two weeks. You learn to communicate within your team and the different communication styles of the team members and how to balance those, as well as the strengths and the weaknesses of the team dynamics,” she says. “The project itself is so interdisciplinary. You are talking to so many different individuals that I think learning to communicate with multiple types of people. Not just language barriers but understanding residents with different priorities and competing priorities. So learning how to effectively talk to others and understand their interest behind their position and then working off that.”

With a tight deadline, time management is crucial. Despite the pressure, the team set schedules, learned to alter course when needed, and came through with a final product on time that was well received.

“We were looking at tourism impacts for Auroville as it currently doesn’t have a tourism management plan in place. We quickly found out that the community is conflicted as to what they would like tourism to look like as well as what tourism looks like currently,” Armstrong says. “I think our report did a good job in creating a foundation and a plan as to how the community can go forward. We looked at impacts such as environmental, social, community, and economic and provided some recommendations and implementations for how they can manage these impacts going forward.”

Now in its seventh year, the International Planning Project course, led by SURP Professor Ajay Agarwal, provides a real-world and international experience.

This opportunity to step outside of North America is a key element for the school and continues to attract students to Queen’s.

“Personally, when I was looking to come to grad school I was looking for an international experience,” says Armstrong. “I didn’t participate in one in my undergrad so it was something that I was seeking. It definitely was something of interest from when I was applying to schools because I wanted to have that unique experience that sets you apart when you are done school. I feel like at the end of the day you all graduate from the program but something like this kind of sets you apart.”

For more information about the course or to obtain a copy of the full project report, contact Dr. Agarwal.