The tattoo on the back of Leon Mann’s hand says Rasva-apina, the Finnish translation for a term sometimes used to describe a mechanic. The tattoo is a permanent tribute to a four-week trip he took to Finland earlier this year as part of RRC Polytech’s Outbound Student Mobility pilot project.
The project aims to help students — especially those from under-represented groups — strengthen their global skills and competencies, boost their career capacity, expand their professional network and ultimately enrich Manitoba’s economic and social prosperity.
It’s already put Mann, an automotive student with roots in Lake Manitoba First Nation, on a path he would never have thought possible a short time ago. He almost didn’t fill out the program application.
“I was feeling stuck in place and thought, ‘You can’t do that, you can’t achieve that, it’s too prestigious.’ But one of my instructors pushed me, so I applied. Now, I still can’t believe I was there.”
Mann traveled to Finland in February with almost a dozen other RRC Polytech automotive students and instructors. The trip counted towards their program’s work experience requirement and exposed them to on-site training and cultural exploration.
Outbound Student Mobility launched in 2019 thanks to funding from Global Skills Opportunity (GSO), an Employment and Social Development Canada initiative jointly administered by Colleges and Institutes Canada and Universities Canada (CICan).
“Study and work abroad programs are invaluable learning experiences that ensure students are culturally literate, resilient, adaptable and ready to succeed in an increasingly globalized world,” says CICan President Denise Amyot.
A recent CICan report shows 2,556 students Canada-wide have participated in the program. Three quarters of participants identified themselves as members of underrepresented groups — Indigenous students, low-income students and students with disabilities — who would not have had the opportunity to study abroad if it wasn’t for this project.
“All of the students who participated from our College identified that they belong to one or more underrepresented groups,” says Yuko Sakurai, an international student support representative at RRC Polytech’s Centre for International Education and Global Partnerships (CIEGP). “This year, funding was approved to support students from three program areas to travel to partner institutions in Finland, Denmark and Jamaica.”
Fredy Froese, a Heavy Duty Equipment Technician student, traveled to Jamaica in February 2023 with three others for a 13-day international experience in Montego Bay. Born in Paraguay and “fully immersed” in Canadian and American culture, Froese says the experience of seeing how automotive shops are run in Jamaica was eye-opening.
“The work rhythm was different, and the professionalism was impressive. So were the high-quality tools they used,” says Froese. “It was all very cool to see. Seeing how a shop operates first-hand gave me a new perspective on what to expect when I get out in the field.”
The on-site work experience portion of the trip lasted three days. Froese spent the rest of his time exploring Jamaica’s culture, including Montego Bay’s vast outdoor supermarket and historical sites. The food, he adds, was “out of this world.” He and his classmates also met with Jamaican students who participated in a virtual exchange and will visit in person next year.
Fellow RRC Polytech student Leon Mann explored the city of Turku and surrounding areas in Finland, took in a hockey game, and developed an appreciation for the city’s heated sidewalks. He says meeting new people and hearing their stories has expanded his view of the world.
In the automotive garage that Mann visited for his work experience, he was surprised that one technician dealt with everything, from setting up the appointment to providing service.
“That gave me a complete outlook on everything I might do when I open my own shop.”
When Mann first joined RRC Polytech’s automotive program, he had no goals apart from getting his certificate. Since then, he’s decided to reach farther. He aims to pass the Red Seal exam for automotive service technicians and open a garage in his home community.
“I’d like to work out a system for our school where I can train students interested in getting into the trade.,” he says. “That’s a path I think many kids there would want to follow, and I believe it would improve our community.”
His Finland experience gave him “that little extra push to keep going down the path I’m on now and not give up,” he says. “This experience taught me that anything is achievable as long as you push yourself into it.”
The intercultural exchange goes both ways, says RRC Polytech automotive instructor Nathan Goertzen. In late 2022, Finnish high school students and instructors visited RRC Polytech and toured our facilities first-hand.
“They were very interested in the mechanical skills training we provide. They got to take apart engines, put them back together, and get them running again. We also showed them more advanced procedures like scope diagnostics.”
“It was great to see them forming relationships with our students,” says Goertzen, noting instructors participating in the exchanges gain a global perspective on teaching, training and engaging students by sharing methods and ideas.
Outbound Student Mobility also fulfils another essential mandate: to build and strengthen connections between institutions around the globe and explore new opportunities abroad. As an instructor, Goertzen got to see how European schools operate. He visited TAI (Turku Vocational Institute) and other colleges in the Finnish cities of Lieksa and Lohja.
“You learn a lot just from seeing how someone else delivers course material in another culture,” he says. “Every little bit of information is something you can add to your toolbox.”
Ultimately, the value of Outbound Mobility comes from the doors it opens to first-hand experiences.
“Whether you’re coming to Canada or traveling abroad, actually being there on the ground is entirely different from seeing another place on social media or in the news,” says Goertzen.
“First-hand international experiences like these give students a wider perspective and make them better professionals and people. Take students in my program, for example. Cars are cars, no matter where you are. Europeans may operate their shops differently, but the nuts and bolts are the same. When my students see that, they realize they can work anywhere worldwide.”
Profile by Ryan McBride (Creative Communications, 2012)