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Sask Polytech students explore UK with Global Skills Opportunity Fund

Students take in UK culture, cuisine and hairstyling.
Students from the Sask Polytech Prince Albert Campus Hairstyling Diploma program recently travelled to Wales.

PRINCE ALBERT — Students from the Hairstyling diploma program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Prince Albert campus spent a week in the United Kingdom in March practising their trade and exploring the local culture.  

This global learning experience was funded by the Global Skills Opportunity Fund (GSO) which aims to empower post-secondary institutions to increase the participation of Canadians in international learning opportunities — especially Indigenous students, students with disabilities and those from low socio-economic backgrounds who have traditionally faced barriers to participation.  

“It was an exceptional experience for myself and the students that we were able to bring with us,” program head Louise Benson said.

Benson said they began planning the trip began in June 2022. She said the trip was an amazing learning experience for both students and staff.

“Everybody thinks that a global experience is just about getting to the spot you are going and doing things,” she explained. “The educational experience to be able to prep for the trip, get your passport documentation, get all that stuff in place was an amazing learning experience for students as well.”

The trip was approved in August 2022. Students left on March 11 and returned on March 18. They had three days of travel and five on campus.

“That was a very full eight days,” Benson said. “Every day was packed with amazing opportunities for students and staff that went.”

An International Coordinator came with them and was a great support to make sure things ran smoothly. After they left for Wales, the group was constantly on the go.

“We were able to bring our International Coordinator with us, which was a great help because she was such a big support when it came to organizing and making sure everything ran smoothly which is a big deal when you are in a different country with students,” Benson explained.

“We had a learning experience every day for the students, a teaching educational experience and also a cultural experience, so the day started very early in the morning and we went until late at night. It was a very packed itinerary, (and) it was wonderful.”

Cardiff and Vale College (CAVC) in Cardiff, Wales welcomed Sask Polytech students for a tour and classes with local students in the Hair and Beauty program. The students found techniques and practices similar to hairstyling back home, with the biggest difference being the level of creativity.  

Benson explained that CAVC gave students new techniques and a different way to look at doing their craft.

“The educators were also quite impressed actually, at the speed and skill level that our students came to them with,” Benson said.

She said that spoke well of Sask Polytech programming as students were placed at levels three and four. Students at CAVC start as young as 16 years old.

“We were very happy to see that and compare that with the students in another country,” Benson said. “Europe has quite a strong, I would say, hairstyling (program) and I would say beauty industry. The training there is quite sought (after) so we were very happy that little old Saskatchewan could produce students that fit in.”

The Sask Polytech students met or exceeded expectations. Student Teneil Wilkinson said that it was challenging, but they quickly settled in.

“It was definitely at our level or what we were instructed to do. We were capable and doing the lessons, but it was still challenging at the same time,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said that instructors found the Sask Polytech students quick after expecting them to be slower. She found the school environment to be motivating and extremely creative.

“I would highly recommend going to that Cardiff College,” the 33-year-old Wilkinson said. “It's unreal.”  

Students were also issued certificates that can help them in the future.

“With the hairstyling industry any training that is completed beyond their journeyperson or their training in an educational facility has quite a bit of value to them, so we came back with certificates that the students will be able to use for their education,” Benson said.

Learning at CAVC was only a portion of their experience. Students also took in local cuisine, culture and history with a Welsh food tasting tour, Welsh language sessions, a Cardiff Castle tour and a stop at St. Fagans National Museum of History. They also got to spend time exploring London which included a tour and presentation at Goldwell Academy, a hairdressing and salon training ground.  

Both Benson and Wilkinson spoke highly of the Wales cultural experience.

“If anybody ever has the opportunity to travel to the UK I really recommend Cardiff,” Benson said. “It has the history, it has the beautiful buildings, it has the culture, it has the people remind me of Saskatchewan people very friendly and welcoming and it has everything that you would want to experience in the UK without the rush of London,” Benson said.
Wilkinson explained the group walked all of the time and it was different from the Canadian experience.

“Everything is so compact and close together, so walking is the main way to get around as well as transit, trains, things like that,” Wilkinson said. “That was a big culture shock because I will drive almost everywhere in Prince Albert.”

Global Skills Opportunity, the Government of Canada’s national outbound student mobility pilot program, made the international experience possible. It is an integral component of the Government of Canada’s International Education Strategy and is administered jointly by Universities Canada and Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan). Projects are designed, implemented and managed by participating universities and colleges across the country. GSO’s vision is to expand the horizons of Canadian students from coast to coast and improve Canada’s competitiveness on the world stage.  

Sask Polytech said in a release that they are committed to global engagement, which includes providing opportunities for Sask Polytech students to participate in global study abroad opportunities.

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