International travel opens new world of learning

Robert Celik, BSc’18, believes in being open to new opportunities.

Whether it’s travelling to India as a high school student to help build a school, making the decision to switch his degree path to follow his passion, or taking a last-minute trip to a small village in the Swiss Alps, he hasn’t let the fear of the unknown hold him back.

“While I was at Western, I was fortunate to take part in three international learning experiences,” said Celik, who was born and raised in Toronto. “I couldn’t believe I was able to do all three. Things just worked out for me both timing-wise and in that I was able to get the financial support I needed to make it happen. It’s so valuable to open up your mind to new cultures and experiences, put yourself in uncomfortable situations and overcome barriers. It changes you as a person.”

In 2016, Celik signed up for his first Western faculty-led international learning experience, travelling to Poland for a two-week course to learn about the Holocaust.

“We talked with survivors of genocide, as well as people who helped the survivors. They were long days, it was a lot of work, and not the happiest of topics, but it was fascinating. I had always had an interest in the topic because of the gravity of it – it directly refers to human nature,” he said.

That experience opened him up to the possibility of more travel. The following year, a staff member at Western suggested he apply for an experience in France – a kinesiology bike tour in Southern France where he cycled up to 70 kilometres a day.

“I went to the information session and I knew it was something I wanted to do. It was a two-week trip led by (former Western President) Paul Davenport and we biked up to Vimy Ridge for the 100-year anniversary of the battle. That was really special. It was something I never thought I would get the chance to do.”

Celik credits his earlier experiences abroad with giving him the confidence to spend a year on exchange. He had developed an interest in the German language and during his third year at Western he decided to apply to spend the next year in Germany.

“There are so many parts of the travel process that can be intimidating and travel is intrinsically about visiting unfamiliar environments. By the time the exchange opportunity to Germany arose I was comfortable enough to travel alone without knowing anyone.”

While in Germany he immersed himself in an intensive German language course, studied business and environmental science, and took as many courses as he could. One of his best memories is also of an accidental meeting he had while he was there.

“At 11:59 p.m. one night I made the decision to book a train ticket to mountain village of Gstaad, leaving at 5 a.m. the next morning. The town was hosting a professional beach volleyball tournament with the best players in the world. Volleyball is my favourite sport, and I’m always looking for an excuse to visit Switzerland.”

After watching a couple of matches, Celik toured the town and came across a hotel where people were playing tennis. “When I got closer I realized it was Canada’s own Genie Bouchard (a world-ranked tennis player). Naturally I got a picture with her after the training session. Being half way around the world, in a small town in the Swiss Alps, the encounter was absolutely unexpected.”

To fund his travels, Celik applied for and received scholarships and bursaries, both from Western and from other sources. He also competed in Western’s World’s Challenge Challenge competition in 2016 and used his winning prize to fund his study-abroad experience.

“It’s essential these days to have some international experience and skills. It’s a global world – whether for a job orfor personal connections and relationships.With all the trips I got them covered by travel bursaries and scholarships. I was able to get 80- to 90-per-cent covered. Students should be encouraged to seek out funding and opportunities. Finances shouldn’t be a barrier to these experiences.”

Having just completed his Bachelor of Science Degree with an Honors Specialization in Geography in October, Celik is back in Toronto figuring out his next adventure. Although he was initially pursuing a degree in Medical Sciences when he began at Western, he chose to change his focus to Geography, in part because of his experiences abroad.

“I have broad interests,” he said. “I discovered a specific interest in food systems. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll do next. I’m really open to a lot of things. I want to do something business-oriented, health and environment-related. Regardless of what I choose to do, I know I will apply what I’ve learned through my international experiences. They can really change you as a person – you meet incredible people and you see things you would never see otherwise.”