More than 3,000 Texas A&M University students registered for international experiences in 2012-13 ̶ breaking an historic milestone – and setting a new record for the university as officially tracked by the Study Abroad Programs Office. According to Pamela R. Matthews, vice provost for academic affairs, that is a record worth celebrating.
“It is exciting that a record number of Aggies has committed to global learning through the pursuit of international opportunities. “ Matthews says. “We celebrate the students for making the commitment, their families for being supportive, and the faculty and advisors for encouraging student engagement in these important opportunities.”
With a record-breaking 3,000 plus students deciding to broaden their horizons through university-sponsored international opportunities, it’s important to note that making the decision to study or pursue non-credit bearing activities abroad doesn’t just happen.
“It takes the cooperation and strong encouragement of the colleges and deans,” says Jane Flaherty, director of the Study Abroad Programs Office. “It takes dedicated academic advisors to guide students in crafting a degree plan that includes a high impact, international experience. It takes highly committed faculty members and staff who, with the support of their departments and families, not only stress the importance of global learning here in Aggieland, but also take students abroad for course work, research, service learning, or internships and other highly experiential opportunities for their students.”
This year, the provost’s office named Chris Houser, associate professor, department of geography, as its first Global Faculty Ambassador to assist with university level global strategic priorities. Houser is charged specifically with raising awareness about the wealth of opportunities for study and research provided by Texas A&M’s Soltis Center for Research and Education in San Isidro, Costa Rica. However, he is an equally strong advocate for high-impact learning experiences available through international opportunities in general.
“(Study abroad) is not about looking out the window of a bus,” says Houser. “It’s about becoming immersed in another environment, culture or community.
“Students who raise their level of cultural awareness and sensitivity the most are those who really become integrated into another culture. Their results go beyond learning about another culture; these students achieve a whole new level of competence and develop social networks that benefit them through life.”
At Texas A&M, students have done everything from studying for a semester in Italy and China to conducting field research in Peru or at the Soltis Center. They’ve held internships in Russia and done service learning in the Dominican Republic and Rwanda. Aggies are taking the great traditions of this university around the world, while learning to navigate the challenges that go along with living and interacting within another culture.
“Students have so many options for adding an international component to their A&M degree,” Flaherty states. “They can volunteer abroad for a week, or spend a semester or year building fluency in another language.”
On Wednesday, Sept. 25, any student who wants to learn more about international opportunities, explore funding options and scholarships, and talk to professors who will be leading programs abroad is invited to attend the annual Overseas Day from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in Rudder Exhibit Hall.
“Overseas Day is a great way for students to get some initial exposure to the wide variety of opportunities that are available,” says Flaherty. “The key is to start planning early – talk to your academic advisor and the advisors in the Study Abroad Program Office to make sure the international experience fits your degree plan and your budget.”
Katelyn Hoskins ’15, an international studies major from The Woodlands, TX, went on a six-credit, 10-week Hispanic Cultural Studies “total immersion” trip that was the perfect fit for her degree plan. She had the opportunity to spend the first four weeks with Teresa Vilarós, the faculty leader from Texas A&M.
“Dr. Vilarós planned an amazing trip, took us to so many interesting places, and had so much to teach us about every place we went; she definitely cared about how much we learned,” says Hoskins.
During the next six weeks, Hoskins took classes at Universitat Pompeu Fabra and interacted with her Spanish peers in Barcelona. Hoskins continues: “It was exhausting, confusing, and just plain frustrating at times, but overall I had the time of my life. Anyone who has the chance to study abroad, DO IT! You will learn more about yourself and the world than you ever could anywhere else. It’s worth every cent.”
Results from a survey conducted among 214 of the students who participated in the summer study-abroad program corroborated Hoskins’ opinion. When asked to respond to the statement: “Overall I felt my study-abroad experience was a good investment in my future,” 98 percent of the respondents agreed, with the vast majority strongly agreeing. It’s a small sampling, but it’s a reflection of how much Aggies believe they benefit from these high-impact experiences, Flaherty notes.
“For the last 11 years, Texas has been the top exporting state in the nation. In order for Aggies to assume their place as leaders in the Texas economy, they will need to have a familiarity with how other societies function and how markets in other countries work,” adds Flaherty. “Going abroad is a key element in developing this knowledge.”
The university offers more than $500,000 in scholarship support to study abroad, and the individual colleges also have their own scholarship programs. Students on financial aid can have their costs of studying abroad factored into their estimated cost of attendance and use their aid for course work done overseas.
“This is what (the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan) ‘Aggies Commit to Learning for a Lifetime’ is all about,” says Matthews. “When more than 3,000 students make a commitment to engage purposefully in a high-impact learning experience such as studying abroad, they are developing habits and skills to prepare them for lives of leadership and service to society.”
Study Abroad videos are now showing in the Appelt Aggieland Visitor Center for the many current and prospective students and visitors who want to know more about the program. The videos can also be seen on the Aggies Commit website.