by Kat Connelly
Traveling abroad provides a unique learning environment. It gives students new perspectives on ways to think, behave and grow as a person.
Students from WSU Vancouver are incorporating international experiences into their education through structured study abroad programs and independent trips.
Backpacking across borders
This summer, Kyle Thun, a junior in anthropology, and Andrew Ritter, a junior in business, headed on a six-week backpacking trip across Morocco, Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar as well as the Altas Mountains and the Sahara. In the desert they stayed with their host, Mohammed, drank tea, rode camels, learned about ancient trade routes, sand boarded (sliding down the desert dunes) and slept under the stars on a rooftop.
“I knew traveling the country would be a challenge, but challenge is good as it puts you out of your element and gives you the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the diverse world we live in,” Ritter said.
Continuing to Western Europe, they met people from all ages and backgrounds while exploring spots where the locals gathered. Thun described his interactions as the core of his enjoyment and learning experience from this trip.
“You’re one of seven billion,” said Thun. “Go out and make a difference and expand your horizons.”
A leap beyond campus
Kiley Womack, a psychology major, was one of three WSU Vancouver students to study abroad in fall 2015. She participated in the AIFS Italy Florence Semester Program, focusing on studio art courses. Her program also included tours of museums and churches, day and overnight trips to Rome and Siena, and other activities to fully experience Italian culture.
The choice to study abroad isn’t always easy. It can mean being away from family and friends for many months. But, Womack said, “My experience let me see that taking a leap of faith will provide some of the best memories and experiences as well.”
Although a bit of homesickness is common, most students return grateful for the time they spent living among new peers in a culture different from their own. And there are resources available to smooth the transition back into life on campus.
Global learning opportunities
In 2014, WSU signed the Generation Study Abroad pledge, a national initiative to increase the number of students studying abroad. The university plans to grow the number of students participating in international learning programs to 1,000 annually from all campuses by the 2019/20 academic year.
WSU Vancouver students are encouraged to take advantage of the numerous global learning opportunities available.
“Students who study abroad frequently report a greater sense of self-confidence, which results from navigating regions and cultures unfamiliar to them,” said Miwako Nakamoto, academic coordinator and liaison to the Office of International Programs.
Christine Oakley, director of global learning and associate clinical professor of sociology at WSU Pullman, reported that study abroad participants earned higher grade point averages than students who did not travel abroad. She also reported that the average six-year graduation rate for students studying abroad is 92 percent, compared with 67 percent for students remaining on campus.
There are also options for students who are interested in expanding their worldly perspectives but want to stay local. Global Case Competition, for example, is a competition involving graduate and undergraduate students working in teams to tackle a global issue and come up with a solution. WSU Vancouver also offers a global studies minor that challenges students to think critically about social, cultural, political and scientific issues facing the world today. ■
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This article is summarized from Northwest Crimson & Gray Magazine
Northwest Crimson & Gray is the semiannual magazine of WSU Vancouver, produced to highlight the WSU Vancouver community and higher education in Southwest Washington. To read the full story, download or view the Fall 2016 issue online (PDF). You can also subscribe for free.
See also: Study Abroad