Internships in rural areas

The current campaigns for paid internships, for the most part, portray interns as a rather homogeneous group that experiences a reality specific to big cities. In some regions, however, there are aspects that add to or differ from this ideal. This article will discuss the reality of student teachers at the Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR). Being an intern myself, I have not had the opportunity to survey interns from other rural universities, but the challenges caused by travel distance and cohort size are undoubtedly similar.

Business trips at the expense of the student

At the UQAR, student teachers in primary and preschool education mainly come from the Lower Saint-Lawrence, the North Shore, Gaspesia and the Magdalen Islands. A large proportion of undergraduate students wish to do their last two internships, which are longer and involve a significant amount of personal investment, outside of Rimouski. In that way, they would increase their chances of obtaining a job within their hometown’s school board. Thus, they travel a lot by car as part of their internship, whether it is to attend the five seminars that are given at the UQAR or to go to their internship from home.

The demand for financial support is enormous compared to the limited bursaries that are granted by the program to pay the students’ costs for travel. This year, a seventy kilometer trip between the internship’s location and their personal residence was not enough for a student to have access to the bursary, nor the fifty kilometers round trip of another student from my cohort. Only six people will be eligible this year thanks to a trip totaling more than eighty kilometers per day. These five hundred dollars will barely cover the transportation costs of these interns for the period from September to December.

Since the fourth internship lasts seventeen weeks and the workload makes it near impossible to be in paid employment at the same time, it is not surprising to see that many students decide to go into debt to complete this long semester. A large price to pay to be able to do the internship in a rural area.

Places where internships are removed

At the UQAR, it is now impossible to do an internship in the Magdalen Islands unless we find at least five other students from our cohort to accompany us. This year is also the last in which the the city of Fermont will host interns. The North Shore is also likely to be withdrawn from the list of internship destinations as the University considers that these places are too remote and expensive, not to mention that there are not enough requests. I see that we now form small cohorts at the UQAR, reaching about thirty students a year. Although I understand that they sought to save money by subjecting interns to certain areas, it is impossible for me to ignore how these restrictions are hurting students as well as remote schools.

My colleagues and I agree unanimously: we love small schools from remote areas. Firstly because they make it possible to get quickly known by school principals and thus carve out a place of choice for ourselves on the lists of replacements and contracts. But also because it is possible to integrate quickly and fully into a team that is often small, but oh so united.

In another perspective, the arrival of future teachers in these often isolated schools acts as a bridge between the new academic research and the application of teaching methods in the field. These long internships bring a breath of fresh air, a new help to these schools that are much too often isolated.

Finally, the government wants to promote rural areas, make them more attractive and encourage the youth to settle there. Having myself recently moved to the Lower Saint-Lawrence, I think it is by living and doing my internships here that I took an interest in this beautiful region.

One of the first steps, in my opinion, would be to further encourage the student population to consider settling in these areas and perfecting their learning there. This could be done by providing students with the financial capacity, namely a system of bursaries for internships in remote areas, which would be added to the base salary for internships.

A similar fight

After all, the interns’ fight remains pretty much the same everywhere in Quebec: having access to paid internships. Interns will be asked to hold full-time positions while being students, to not have another job and, most importantly, to pay tuition fees. Although travel expenses mainly affect students from rural areas, an intern may have to travel long distances to get to the school where they are doing their internship while living in an urban center. I believe, however, that if we want to promote and support the beautiful regions of Quebec by making them attractive for future workers, it has to be achieved, once again, through education.

Catherine Duval Guévin
Translation by Anika L’Heureux

This article was published in the Winter 2018 issue of the english edition of CUTE Magazine.
To learn more about the struggle for the full recognition of student work, to discuss or contribute to it, we can contact us via the CUTE Campagne sur le travail étudiant page or the SWUC – Student Work Unitary Committee page.