Why studying abroad was the best decision I made

How The Dialog’s Kelsey Rambaran studied abroad in Europe with students from George Brown College and learned real-world leadership skills

After the winter semester finished in April, I found myself lucky enough to be one of 14 students sitting on a plane to France for a study abroad leadership program. This is one of many similar programs George Brown College (GBC) offers its students.

At the age of 13, my parents took me to Paris for the first time and this was really the first of many trips that weren’t your typical family vacation to Disney World. From that moment on, I knew I loved to travel and have taken every opportunity that I was able to.

I knew this was a great way to see Paris again as an adult and it was one of the reasons I applied for the trip, aside from lightening my course load.

For students who want a change of pace when it comes to classroom learning, study abroad trips are offered in the two weeks between semesters at the end of April.

“It’s a chance for you to be adventurous, explore the unknown, and try new activities that may not be offered at home,” said Paul Araujo, a professor and co-ordinator for the special events management program.

This is the fifth school trip I have been on, and while the idea of traveling with your professors seems daunting and perhaps unappealing to some, for me it was just one more opportunity where I would be able to expand my horizons both from an educational and a cultural perspective.

The Dialog's Kelsey Rambaran stops for a quick photo in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on at GBC study abroad trip in April.

The Dialog’s Kelsey Rambaran stops for a quick photo in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on at GBC study abroad trip in April.

I was comfortable with traveling with professors as I had done so many times before, and I would argue it’s better than traveling with your family because during your free time in between tours, you get to go to lunch with your friends, which can be way more entertaining than lunch with your parents.

This particular trip involved the leadership and group dynamics course that is taught to hospitality students. This trip offered students the opportunity to learn the course in two weeks, as opposed to the regular 15-week semester, while immersing themselves in a cultural learning experience as well.

“I know that many students who took the leadership course during the school year at George Brown College found it ‘boring’, as they were stuck in the classroom learning the textbook definition of a leader, instead of applying their leadership skills first-hand by doing group activities and actually being a leader,” said Mariann Bisa, a student special events management student going into her third semester.

“On this trip we received a unique way of learning the course material, which made the learning experience much more effective.”

The trip lasted 13 days and started with several days in Paris. From there we took a day trip to Epernay to put our wine and beverage course into effect with a tour of the cellars at Champagne Mercier, followed by a tasting. We also took a tour along the Alsatian wine route from Colmar to Ingersheim where we got a tour and tasting at the Jean Geiler winery.

“As a hospitality student, seeing and experiencing the tour reinforced my education from our wines and beverages class at George Brown. Similarly, the Jean Geiler Alsatian wine tasting added to our education from that class as well,” said Raya Facey, a special events management student going into third semester in September. “It was an engaging way to absorb history and fun facts about wines.”

Three of the champagnes we tasted at Champagne Mercier. . Photo: Kelsey Rambaran / The Dialog

Three of the champagnes we tasted at Champagne Mercier. . Photo: Kelsey Rambaran / The Dialog

We then made an overnight stop in Reims, before taking the bullet train to Strasbourg where we settled in at the Château de Pourtalès for our learning experience.

Our group spent a week at the château, where we had our leadership lectures from professors Victor Wroblewski and Araujo, and a guest leadership seminar where we got a chance to work on team building skills through various activities.

Araujo said that teaching abroad also benefits professors.

“When I teach at home my knowledge is enhanced by my international experiences,” he said. “(Teaching abroad) challenges me to teach in different ways, styles, formats, and in much stricter timeline.”

While I was initially hesitant about being at the château for an entire week and being taught by someone who wasn’t one of my professors, I quickly got more comfortable with my surroundings and my peers.

That was one of the biggest fears I had going into this trip. While in the past my school excursions had been with people I spent the majority of my life in school with, this time I would be spending two weeks in two different foreign countries with people I had not met before and had never had classes with.

However, those feelings quickly dissipated as we got to know each other better through working together on the assignments, hanging out in common areas at the end of the day and of course the many random moments of breaking out into song as we travelled from city to city on the tour bus.

In addition to the classroom learning, excursions were arranged for us to get a chance to learn more about the culture of France. This was achieved with a walking tour in Strasbourg to see various French Gothic-style architecture and a day trip to a castle in Orschwiller.

The trip included a visit to Notre Dame in Reims as students absorbed both French food and culture. Kelsey Rambaran / The Dialog

The trip included a visit to Notre Dame in Reims as students absorbed both French food and culture. Kelsey Rambaran / The Dialog

Araujo said programs like these benefit students in several ways, including preparing them for both the local and global market and that they are a benefit to the school, because grads leave more knowledgeable after going on the trips.

“Employers value prospective candidates with international experience, foreign language skills, foreign business knowledge and the ability to understand other cultures,” said Araujo. “Students expand their abilities, which can be a determining factor that will separate them from others in a pool of applicants.”

While in Strasbourg, we also had a chance to visit the Center of Information of European Institutions to learn about the European Union.

Another day excursion included a trip to Gengenbach, Germany to Schwarzwald Tourismus GmbH where we learned about the Black Forest region and methods and channels of communication of the tourism board.

“After touring different cities within France and Germany, it has made me consider trying to do my externship abroad, preferably somewhere in Europe. There was not one specific moment that made me think about doing this, but everything strung together,” said Bisa. “The hospitality industry in different parts of the world is very different from each other, and it would be interesting to learn more about how they all work.”

Wrapping up the trip, we spent the last three days in Germany, which started off with a trip to Baden-Baden to visit the five-star Dorint Maison Messmer Hotel for a tour and to learn about how their hotel works within the industry.

“Through this experience, we saw what excellence in hospitality truly looks like and witnessed the type of hospitality high-end guests expect,” said Facey.

The trip wrapped up in Heidelberg, where we spent our final evening enjoy a traditional German dinner or bratwurst and sauerkraut.

“The skills learned academically and in practice on this trip will be with me for life. I have nothing but positive thoughts about the trip to pass onto others. On a scale of 1-10, I am completely satisfied and am giving this trip and it’s ROI a 10/10,” said Facey.

In addition to the benefits these trips have, Araujo also said it’s rewarding to see the experiences the students take from them.

“Sounds corny, but some students’ lives are changed for the better as a result of study abroad experiences,” he said.

A cheese board and baguettes we got to sample at the Marché d'Aligre. Photo: Kelsey Rambaran / The Dialog

A cheese board and baguettes we got to sample at the Marché d’Aligre. Photo: Kelsey Rambaran / The Dialog

Bisa said this experience shaped her in both an educational and personal way.

“I believe that studying abroad is something that everyone should try at least once in their life when given the chance. It is a way to expand and broaden your horizons, and it is a whole new way of learning and seeing the world,” said Bisa.”

Overall, I would personally say that a trip like this gives students a great value for their money and gives them a chance to get a more well-rounded education than what they would be getting if they sat in a classroom for three hours a week for the entire semester.

Being able to do this course in a hands-on manner and also to expand on other classes taken in the hospitality program made this trip a fantastic learning experience in all aspects of hospitality and not just in leadership.

Not only did I come back from the trip with a more rounded knowledge of leadership and group dynamics, but I also came back with a deeper appreciation for the French culture, a reaffirmed love for travel and new friends who shared an amazing experience with me.


Why studying abroad was the best decision I made