Bridge to the World
More Than Words
LOOKING AT THE BIG PICTURE, there are any number of studies citing the many benefits of study abroad. Take for instance a survey of several thousand Institute for International Education of Students (IES) Study Abroad alumni regarding their post-college graduation employment success. That study found approximately 97 percent of students who had studied abroad found employment within 12 months of graduation, while only 49 percent of overall college graduates found employment in the same period
Or how about the Georgia study that found the GPAs of students who studied abroad rose twice as quickly as their peers as they approached graduation? Then there’s the four-college wide report that showed 59 percent of polled employers believe that within their organization study abroad would be valuable to an individual’s career. Other research shows study abroad alumni have higher starting salaries than their non-traveling peers, feel their study helped them choose a career, are more satisfied with those careers, and believe they are better able to adapt to diverse work environments. However, those involved with Utah State University’s study abroad program tend to see their work on a more intimate scale: the effect such forays — from a few weeks to a few semesters — have on individual lives. “The benefits that students gain are very personal,” said Kay Forsyth, study abroad program director in USU’s Office of Global Engagement. “An international experience can really jump-start the maturing process that builds so many skills, from academic proficiency to a greater ability to navigate new situations to general self reliance.”
MORE THAN TRAVEL Aside from working with USU students who want to experience life in a foreign country, Global Engagement personnel also work to bring international students to Logan. Because there is so much to be gained during time spent abroad, Forsyth believes most any student would benefit from the opportunity and although an increasing number are, the majority of USU students do not take advantage of the chance to spend part of their college career in another country. Most surprisingly to Forsyth, many students still do not know they have an opportunity to do so. In fact, the leaders of the study abroad program still spend much of their time reaching out to students simply to let them know the chance to travel exists as part of their overall college experience. Appropriately enough, some of the greatest advertising for study abroad comes from the touring students themselves. “They [study abroad students] come back so full of confidence and they just want to spread the word,” Forsyth said. “They want to help other students realize the beauty and the value of studying abroad.” Each semester, the Office of Global Engagement sends about 30 USU students to study abroad. Most of those involved will spend a semester in their temporary homes, but there also are many summer programs only a few weeks long. Students participating in the shorter programs often opt for a longer stay abroad later in their academic careers. The foreign universities and countries in which to travel and learn are many and varied. In fact, USU partners with more than 150 universities in dozens of countries to offer students a vast array of learning opportunities. While foreign language learners are a natural fit for the study abroad program, it is not necessary to have a complete command of a foreign language to be able to study in that country and indeed, many of the courses offered abroad are taught in English. Clearly, however, one of the advantages of studying in a non-English speaking country is the chance for immersion into a language and culture the student has been studying in the classroom. “I improved my French language skills more during one month of living in France than I did during a year of in-class courses,” said Victoria Harris, who studied in Annecy, France for four weeks in the summer of 2012. But not all study abroad students are majoring, or even minoring, in a foreign language. Many are looking to study history, literature, and many other subjects in the place of origin for their interests. USU students have the opportunity to study marine biology at Southern Cross University in Australia; or English literature at the University of Leicester in England; Dutch art and literature at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands; or sculpture, painting, design and ceramics at Sungshin Women’s University inSouth Korea. Of course, language courses also are taught in non-English speaking countries. MORE THAN ENGLISH While USU students are abroad, they work with a host coordinator who is available to answer questions and help with everything from housing to homesickness. Likewise, international students who attend Utah State receive help from Forsyth’s study abroad office.
Although most international students are proficient at the English language, many others need help with fluency before they can actually take regular classes on campus. For them, CHaSS’s Intensive English Language Institute (IELI) helps provide the fluency needed to attend classes taught in English. Begun in 1972, IELI is accredited by the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation and is a member of English USA (AAIEP) and UCIEP (University and College Intensive English Programs), a consortium of university and college intensive English programs. Students who complete the IELI course do not need a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score, the usual measurement for college-level language proficiency, to begin taking regular classes at USU. “We’re really the first connection for [international] students who come here,” said Associate Professor and Director of IELI Jim Rodgers. “We have small classes and we really get to know the students. So we form pretty tight bonds.” Those bonds extend not only from students to IELI faculty, but also from student to student. Just as with USU students who choose to study abroad, the friendships that are forged between international students, from a variety of countries, experiencing Utah State together can last a lifetime. That long-term bond probably isn’t surprising given the culture shock that may accompany a first visit to the United States and the many emotions that go along with experiencing virtually everything as new and different. Knowing the many difficulties their international students face, especially those beyond the English language itself, IELI educators often go over and above their regular teaching duties, working with students in the classroom and through various department activities to help them assimilate. “It’s not only the language we’re teaching, it really is the culture,” Rogers said. “It’s how to present themselves and how to interpret how Americans act. We’re not only providing a linguistic bridge, but a cultural bridge of how to ‘be’ in this culture. We just try to be there for them, for whatever they need.” Fall 2014 saw nearly 100 IELI students furthering their English language skills and bridging those cultural gaps. The students represented more than 20 countries including China, Iraq, Slovenia, Columbia, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and more. Although the majority of IELI learners are undergraduates, a small percentage are graduate students. The success of IELI is evident as a vast majority of students — more than 80 percent from fall 2011 through summer 2012 — complete the IELI program. Of those 2011-12 students about 72 percent were able to complete three semesters at USU and were continuing to study in their respective majors. These students had an average GPA of 3.0. “We only see a portion of international students who come to USU — those who do not have the required TOEFL scores — but we are really helping the students we do see to succeed,” Rogers said. MORE THAN CHINESE Along with academic success, both IELI students and USU students who study abroad, have experiences and form friendships that can last a lifetime (See story in this issue). Although most international students who come to USU tend to spend at least a semester (which, of course, is also an option for USU students studying abroad), shorter opportunities for USU students to study and serve abroad abound during summer months. Many CHaSS professors plan their summers around foreign studies meant to teach and enrich the lives of their students. Li Guo is an assistant professor of Chinese in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. During the summer of 2014, Guo accompanied a half-dozen Utah State students on an adventure in cultural and language immersion during a study abroad session at Xi’an Jiaotong University located in Xi'an, Shaanxi, China. Students could opt to for either a four- or eight-week session, with the most choosing the latter. The CHaSS student-travelers spent a day in Beijing before venturing to their new university dorm homes where they lived and studied. Weekdays included four hours of language classes taught completely in Chinese. “That means students are receiving 20-hours of Chinese language immersion each week,” Guo explained. “Monday through Friday afternoons, students spend another two hours in Chinese culture classes. That includes Chinese calligraphy, Chinese brush painting and Chinese folk singing.” Such classes are intended to help students to learn the nuances of the culture.
Countries with USU Study Abroad Partner University Programs.
Guo cherishes the opportunity to introduce USU students to both her native language, and her native culture. The rapid advancement in Chinese language skills she sees in her students during a few short weeks is somewhat remarkable. In fact, some program alumni already are finding career success because of the language skills acquired during the program. “One of our students went to China with us right after his second year Chinese classes,” Guo said. “His Chinese improved so much during the eight weeks that when he returned, he was able to open a translation company.” The difficulties associated with moving from Western to Asian culture and vice-versa is something Guo understands intimately. She also understands that from those difficulties comes a broader understanding of not only the two varying cultures, but of humanity in general. “In China, the campuses are like small cities where everyone lives on campus,” Guo said. “So it gives our students a chance to make Chinese friends and other international student friends. By the end of eight weeks, and even four weeks, the students are more independent. They feel safe with their friends and on the campus, and in trying new things.” Because USU students in China receive meal and on-campus lodging discounts, the sessions can be surprisingly affordable. Unfortunately, despite the fact that study abroad staff members say there is a program available to fit most any CHaSS student’s interest, many who might potentially take advantage of the program don’t do so because they believe they simply can’t afford to. Forsyth, however, believes strongly that where there’s a will, there’s a way. “Because those studying abroad are still considered USU students, tuition is actually very affordable,” she said. Further, students have different accommodation options, including living with a host family, residing in student dorms and even sharing an apartment with other international students. These choices often cost little or nothing more than normal living expenses during a semester in Logan. There also are many scholarships available for foreign study and Pell Grants, G.I. Bill funds, academic scholarships and student loans all can be used to fund a semester — or longer — abroad. CHaSS Dean John C. Allen believes so strongly in the power of foreign study that he recently instituted the CHaSS International Initiative Grants program that is designed to “foster creative, student-centered international teaching, research, and service-learning programs” within the college. The initiative includes two $55,000 grants to support faculty-led international learning and service activities for students who will receive course credits for their research, education, and/or service learning. Dean Allen is particularly interested in advancing collaborative, interdepartmental teams of faculty to design international courses of study. “As a young man growing up on a ranch in eastern Oregon, my world was local,” Allen said. “In today’s global society, these study abroad opportunities will enable our students to become leaders with both local and global perspectives.” As advancing technology creates an intricately more connected planet, the world in effect grows smaller. Given this “shrinking globe” phenomenon, the importance of understanding and experiencing diverse languages and cultures will likely increase in the future, both personally and professionally. Study abroad opportunities assure USU CHaSS graduates will be best prepared to meet that future.
I STUDIED ABROAD: Victoria Harris WHERE: Annecy, France; Perpignan, France WHEN: Summers 2012, 2014 Me: “I did two studies abroad through USU. The experiences helped me graduate with not only my primary major of international studies, but also a secondary French language major. I loved my time at USU, and my studies abroad and an internship at the Utah State Capitol were a huge part of that.” What: “I had the opportunity to live in two French family households. This is a cultural experience you can rarely gain in any other form of traveling. My two French families definitely made a big impression on me. They continually took the time to converse with me in French, and I learned new recipes and more in-depth French culture through my host families. Immersion in the language is by far the best way to improve. Campus courses are great for learning grammar and spelling, but the real learning is using those skills with native speakers, and I’m sure all my French teachers would agree.” Why: “My study abroad experience changed me in many ways. Educationally, it pushed me and taught me more about foreign language and foreign culture than is possible in the classroom. Study abroad is an experience I wish every USU student would take. You receive a full semester worth of credits, a trip abroad, and a new perspective, all for about the same amount as it costs to stay in Logan paying rent and tuition for a semester. People talk about a travel bug and I definitely have that. I have a lot of gratitude for USU’s study abroad program and those who helped me through the process. Here is what it comes down to: You often hear, ‘I should have done a study abroad in college.’ But you never hear, ‘Oh, I wish I had stayed in Utah this semester instead of doing that awesome study abroad.’”
I STUDIED ABROAD: Fridy J. Leishman WHERE: Annecy, France; Perpignan, France WHEN: Summer 2014 Me: “I am a senior studying social work at USU. I went to France in the summer of 2014, May and June. We visited the cities of Paris and Perpignan.” What: “When I arrived in Perpignan, I was assigned a fantastic family with hilarious children who loved teasing each other. I was so impressed with how different the culture was regarding food and wine. It was a time of enjoyment and everywhere I went I was surrounded by food. You could easily spend three hours at the dinner table. The French are very careful to make time to enjoy a great meal with friends and family around them. They are very kind to visitors and happy to see your smile when you eat and drink beside them.” Why: “My study abroad definitely changed me. I gained the confidence to meet new people and navigate in a city and to better communicate my needs and wants. I also gained a great experience going on exciting tours, and I gained some great friends from diverse countries with new perspectives on life. I would tell anyone to go out there and explore. Don’t worry about money. Money will come and go, but being able to live in a beautiful country with a wonderful family is a rare opportunity. I now know without a doubt that I have the capability to go to a foreign country and learn more. I look forward to getting more stamps for my passport.”
I STUDIED ABROAD: Kaytlin Talbot WHERE: Kobe, Japan WHEN: 2013-2014 School Year Me: “I currently am a senior dual majoring in global communications and Asian studies with a minor in Japanese.” What: “I had the ability to experience Japanese life, not as a tourist making a quick stop for a few weeks, but as a citizen living, working, and studying for a year. Observing and living the everyday life of the Japanese in Kobe was a once in a lifetime experience. Even the simple activity of grocery shopping is so different in Japan. It is those simple moments, the ones I never took pictures of, that left the strongest impression.” Why: “I gained a better understanding of the Japanese culture, contemporary and ancient. At USU, I gained a fair knowledge of the Japanese language and culture. However, there is nothing like being placed in its origin to test your knowledge. I was able to further that knowledge by doing, observing, and interacting. My experience abroad didn’t just change little things here and there; it shaped who I now am. Because of the experiences I had and the people I was able to interact with, my perspective on many things changed. I learned more about myself and what I want to stand for. I also learned to respect others for their differences and to appreciate those differences. I hope that everyone at least considers a study abroad. It is a benefit for any and all fields.”