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New Fellowship deepens Canada, U.S. understanding

Gary and Consuelo Corbett

February 28, 2013

Original posting: February 2013

University of Washington (UW) undergraduates will now have more opportunities to study in British Columbia, Canada, thanks to the Gary and Consuelo Corbett Canada U.S. Fellowship Program. The program will provide funding for a full academic year abroad at either the University of British Columbia (UBC) or the University of Victoria (UVic) and will enable exchange students from those universities to attend the UW as well.

The first Corbett Fellows will begin their studies abroad when the program launches in fall 2014. Corbett Fellows from the UW will attend UBC, while Corbett Fellows from UBC will study at the UW. Exchanges with UVic will be added at a later date. This international exchange between major universities has its roots in something far more personal: the cross-border life of Gary and Consuelo Corbett. While the couple has lived in places like Toronto, New York, and Atlanta, they have spent the majority of their years in what they like to call the “triangle” of Seattle, Victoria, and Vancouver. They have a passionate belief that the people of these cities share significant commonalities. They are working to help students from these cities better understand their neighbors and to help break down the barriers that separate the two nations — barriers with which they are well acquainted.

Gary’s career led them to immigrate across the U.S. Canadian border several times. When they first moved to the U.S., they were unable to become citizens without first giving up their Canadian citizenship, which proved problematic when Gary’s work took him north once again. Policies eventually changed, and today the Corbetts have dual citizenship. But the ordeal had a profound impact on them and shaped their desire for a closer relationship between the two nations. Consuelo says, “We enjoy a long-standing harmonious relationship along our 3000-plus mile border but we’d like to bring the people of the two countries even closer together.” Gary adds “I’d like it to get like Europe, where you can travel from one country to the next freely. I’d like to see more barriers gone and this fellows program is our way of breaking some of them down.”

Political barriers aren’t the only thing the Corbetts hope the fellowship will help address. “Our driving force is clearing up misunderstandings between people in the U.S. and Canada,” says Consuelo. She and Gary find that some Canadians view the U.S. as an elephant that rolls over the rest of the world. “I think the Canadians are going to find that most people in the U.S. are not stereotypical American tourists,” says Gary. The Corbetts also believe that American students will gain an essential foundation in the culture and politics of Canada they might otherwise miss. “The Americans are going to get a better understanding of Canada. Even though Canadians know a lot about the United States, I’ve known college grads in the U.S. that didn’t know Ottawa was the capital of Canada,” says Gary.

Corbetts & IsaacThe Corbetts know achieving their goals is a big job, and that is why they are offering students a chance to study abroad for a full academic year. “We’d like to dispel some of the myths, but one quarter won’t do it,” says Consuelo. Gary adds, “What a year will do is give students a feel for the people. If you just go for a quarter, you don’t get involved in the community. If you stay for a year, hopefully you’re not just a visitor. Hopefully you become a part of the community.”

Nadine Fabbi, associate director for the Canadian Studies Center in the UW Jackson School of International Studies, has seen the impact that cultural immersion can have on students. She has taken UW students on short trips to Canada and found even those limited excursions eye-opening. “To see the impact of just a week on the students is astounding,” says Fabbi. “Like most Americans, the students know Canada is there but take it for granted and never think about the differences or the importance of the relationship. When students go, what they say over and over again is, ‘My gosh, I didn’t know it was so different.’” She adds that students gain a new perspective on U.S. policy when they compare how Canada, with a history and demography that closely parallels their own, addresses issues like the health care, gun control, and infrastructure.

Students participating in the exchange are encouraged to take a series of core courses in either U.S. or Canadian studies but are given freedom to choose the rest of their classes. The exchange offers UW students a great opportunity to work on a Canadian Studies or Arctic Studies minor, and to gain a deeper understanding of local issues like logging, salmon, and pollution in Puget Sound. “This program is an opportunity to learn about local issues both politically and environmentally,” says Consuelo. Gary adds that it is natural students from areas around the three universities will be attracted to these Northwest-focused issues.

“This gift from the Corbetts represents the best that citizens can do to make a future of harmonious interactions between Canada and the U.S. a reality,” says Vincent Gallucci, chair of the Canadian Studies Program and professor of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “Future generations of citizens will owe the Corbetts a debt of gratitude for their far-thinking contributions to student exchanges.”

The Corbetts hope to attract students who are interested in a range of issues beyond Canadian or U.S. studies alone. While housed in UW’s Canadian Studies Center, the fellowship will be open to all students at the University, in fields from business to law to art, including students who may not have even considered studying in Canada without the aid of this fellowship. “My ideal student is someone who has grown up in the Seattle area and will take the opportunity to learn about Vancouver and Victoria, somebody who hasn’t had the chance to spend a lot of time in Canada,” says Gary. “Ideally I want students who will have some influence later in life, students who represent the top of their class, so the impact will go beyond themselves,” says Gary.

As the Corbetts describe the program and the students they hope will participate, it’s hard not to imagine the program being a perfect fit for younger versions of themselves. In a way, they are providing students with an opportunity they wish they had experienced. “I didn’t study abroad. It would have taken money and we didn’t have it,” says Gary. “I would have loved to do it but I couldn’t, not in the 50’s. The only people who went to the U.S. were athletes on scholarships.” This is, in part, the reason the Corbetts decided to found the pilot stage of the fellowship now, rather than waiting to fund it through a bequest as originally planned. Beginning the program during their lifetime means they will be able to take an active role in guiding the fellowship, help build relationships with UBC and UVic, and personally witness the first Corbett fellows cross the border. As Consuelo puts it, “It’s so nice that we could do this now.”

Corbett Fellowships Program provides an opportunity for exceptional UW undergraduate students to spend a full academic year at University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The Corbett Fellowships Program offers a fellowship award of $7,000 for two 
semesters (September through April).