ASHLEY-LYNN ANTOINE, an environmental systems and sustainability major, spent July 2023 in Iceland piloting a drone over the Skálanes Nature Reserve. Her goal: gathering data to map the environment. Meanwhile, back in the U.S., communication major Jasmine Diglio had recently returned from Milan, Italy, after studying at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore for the spring 2023 semester, an experience that vastly improved her Italian language skills and changed her “1,000 percent.” And in fall 2023, two service-learning trips brought 21 nursing students to Cusco, Peru, to learn about the country’s healthcare system and volunteer — earning credit for clinical experience in the process.
No question about it: international education is alive and well at Southern, rebounding along with the overall travel sector after the COVID-19 pandemic. Some 90 Southern students participated in short-term, faculty-led study abroad programs in 2023 — about a 25 percent increase compared to the previous year.
The outlook for 2024 is more promising. Prior to the pandemic, about 120 Southern students joined the university’s faculty-led study abroad programs annually. The Office of International Education (OIE) expects to meet or exceed that number in 2024. OIE is planning about 14 faculty-led programs to Europe and other destinations, including Belize, Chile, Guatemala, Iceland, Peru, and South Africa; the University Choir will travel to the United Kingdom in May after performing virtually for two years; and plans are being made for the launch of an Honors College Summer Study Abroad Initiative. Though details have not been finalized, the program will provide financial support for a small group of Honors College students.
International students also are coming to Southern in pursuit of knowledge. In the 2022-23 academic year, there were more than 55 international students matriculated at Southern, more than half newly enrolled at the university. An additional 19 international exchange students came to campus for semester- or year-long experiences.
This number is likely to increase, spurred by academic initiatives. The School of Business, for example, is planning to STEM align its MBA, embedding science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in the curriculum. It’s an attractive option for international students pursuing a STEM MBA in the U.S. since it includes an extended optional practical training (OPT) period of three years to complete an internship, etc. in this country. In comparison, a standard MBA has a one-year OPT.
A PRICELESS EXPERIENCE
ONE OF THE MOST WIDELY CITED BARRIERS TO STUDYING ABROAD IS FINANCIAL NEED. At Southern, about 54 percent of first-year students are eligible for Federal Pell Grants, awarded to those with “exceptional financial need” — a statistic that’s not lost among OIE staff.
“Anecdotally, I can tell you that out of 100 students who study abroad at Southern, 99 have financial need,” says Erin Heidkamp, director of the OIE. “That is our biggest hurdle to expanding in-person study abroad participation at Southern.”
The Student Government Association provides an annual allotment for international education, as does senior leadership, including the deans of Arts and Sciences and Education. Heidkamp also is thankful to “a few incredibly wonderful donors” who fund scholarships for study abroad. In 2023, students received almost $40,000 in scholarship aid for international travel. But significantly more is needed to meet need and increase opportunities.
Educating students helps. “In some cases, it is even less expensive to study abroad when housing and living costs are factored in. We help students explore their options,” says Ina Marshall, the programs abroad adviser at Southern.
A lot is a stake for those traditionally less likely to study abroad: students with financial need, underrepresented minorities, and first-generation college students. In fact, a study conducted by CASSIE, the Consortium for the Analysis of Student Success through International Education, showed students in these groups who studied abroad had higher 4- and 6-year graduation rates as well as higher GPAs at graduation compared to peers who didn’t study abroad.
In terms of career growth, Forbes, LinkedIn, and other media also continue to extol the benefits of international education. Cited studies have claimed everything from faster post-graduation employment to increased salaries.
Southern’s University Access Programs (UAP) — an umbrella office for initiatives that increase access and the academic success of first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students in higher education — organized an inaugural study abroad trip, with students traveling to Bermuda in March 2019. After pausing during the pandemic, the program relaunched in January 2023 with a cultural immersion and enrichment experience that brought six students to Puerto Rico. Participants learned about the El Yunque rainforest, Puerto Rican diaspora and migration, and the island’s art and culture. A generous grant from a donor covered expenses.
Valamae Jenkins, ’23, a social work major and first-generation college student who traveled with UAP to Puerto Rico, commented on the experience in an in-depth Q&A: “ . . . I found out that I have fears that I want to conquer and that there are businesses that I want to start.”
Read on as several students and faculty members share their study abroad experiences through words and photos.
PRIOR TO 2023, MORGAN SQUIRES HAD NOT TRAVELED OUTSIDE THE U.S. But she received a world-class education through the Semester at Sea program, which brought students to Europe, Asia, and Africa during the spring 2023 semester. The ship, which functions as a floating college, was Squires’ home base and classroom for 106 days. The itinerary: 11 countries, including India, Kenya, Jordan, Croatia, and Portugal.
Semester at Sea is a third-party partner, so students pay the organization directly rather than Southern. But eligible students can receive financial aid, and the Office of International Education offers help with paperwork and more. Squires, who is majoring in environmental systems and sustainability with a minor in psychology, completed four courses during the trip including Global Studies. All twelve credits transferred to Southern where Squires is now a well-traveled senior.
SERVICE LEARNING IN PERU
IN PERU, SEVEN OUT OF 10 PEOPLE NATIONWIDE WHO NEEDED MEDICAL CARE DID NOT RECEIVE IT, according to a 2022 household survey reported by the World Bank. Among the given reasons: “long waiting times,” “distrust of personnel,” “could not afford care,” and “too far away.”
Inspired by such harsh realities, Maria Krol, associate professor and chairperson of the School of Nursing, led two service-learning trips to Peru in the fall. It was a life-changing experience for the 21 participating undergraduate and graduate nursing students, who learned firsthand about the country’s healthcare system.
The groups, who volunteered in several areas, also brought care items such as vitamins, pain medication, and toothbrushes to distribute. The students spent three days at an under-resourced clinic in the city of Cusco. Next, they traveled to a remote area to provide health assessments and health information, accompanied by a Peruvian doctor who performed the examinations. The program also paid for a Peruvian dentist to travel with the group.
“Students find this portion of the trip the most rewarding and transformative,” notes Krol.
Prior to graduating in May, Chris Delda, ’23, commented on the experience from Peru: “I will definitely take back tons of memories and knowledge with me that I will carry through my future nursing career.”
Looking forward, Krol plans to further support the establishment of a clinic in a remote area to serve neighboring villages. Among her goals: a fundraiser for the initiative and a service-learning trip to Chile.
LAND OF ICE AND FIRE
ASHLEY-LYNN ANTOINE, an environmental systems and sustainability major, transferred to Southern from Gateway Community College after realizing her passion for “nature, animals, and the connection people have to the planet,” she says.
At Southern, she studied drone technology with Scott Graves, professor of environment, geography, and marine sciences. Then, she honed those skills assisting the professor with research on Chaffinch Island in Guilford, Conn. Next up: Antoine traveled to Iceland, where she also flew drones over the Skálanes Nature Reserve to map the area. Data was then compared to that gathered the previous year.
ABBY LUCAS first traveled to Iceland in summer 2022, working with Emma Cross, assistant professor of environment, geography, and marine sciences. (In broad terms, Cross’ research focuses on climate change impacts on marine organisms.) Lucas first interned with the professor through Southern’s Werth Center for Coastal and Marine Studies, doing fieldwork along Connecticut’s coastline and Martha’s Vineyard. In Iceland she built on these experiences, working on a boat in an eastern fjord.
“Although research in Iceland can be unpredictable, through the rain, cold, and sometimes rough seas, I remained in awe of the fieldwork I was participating in,” says Lucas. In summer 2023, Lucas was invited back to Iceland to lead the fieldwork. Today, she’s a graduate student. Among her plans: defending her master’s thesis in fall 2024 and, possibly, moving to Iceland.
ELIZABETH “LIZZY” CAPPELLI ONCE THOUGHT STUDYING ABROAD WAS AN IMPOSSIBILITY. She is a decidedly can-do person — double majoring in Spanish, and human services and rehabilitation studies at Assumption University in Worcester, Mass. But for Cappelli, who is visually impaired, international education would bring unique challenges.
Connecting with Southern’s offices of International Education and Accessibility Services put Cappelli at ease, as did conversations with Miaowei Weng, associate professor of Spanish, who oversaw the program.
“Dr. Weng was so supportive. ‘That’s not a problem,’ she’d tell me. ‘We’ll figure it out.’”
So, Cappelli found herself bound for Salamanca, Spain. The program exceeded her expectations, greatly enhancing her language skills. “I learned more in Spain, than I did my past seven years studying the language,” she says.
Her confidence also increased exponentially. One experience stands out: visiting the large, bustling city of Grenada for several days toward the end of the program. Two days in, Cappelli decided to shop on her own, which meant navigating the foreign, relatively unknown city. The outing was spectacular — up there with evening visits to the Plaza Mayor de Salamanca and tours through internationally recognized museums.
“I gained so much confidence from being in a new place,” she says, “That is probably what I am most happy about.”
Learning the Art of Travel
HOW’S THIS FOR EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING? Students who are studying tourism, hospitality, and management actively plan and execute their study abroad experiences in Italy and Liverpool, England — all under the careful guidance of Lee deLisle, a professor in the Department of Recreation, Tourism, and Sport Management.
It’s an all-inclusive assignment, with students responsible for orchestrating a complete day overseas — planning meal options and transportation as well as presenting detailed information about sites visited.
“It’s great to see how they plan their day while still at Southern and eventually get to see the site as an ‘expert’ guide,” notes deLisle. “They sometimes get overwhelmed with emotion when we arrive at their chosen destination.”
Students also learn firsthand the life-changing power of cultural immersion. In Roccantica, Italy, for example, they donned medieval costumes alongside the townspeople to participate in the Medioevo in Festa. The festival commemorates events in 1059, when Pope Nicholas II took refuge at the fortified city after the fall of Rome. The villagers successfully defended the Pope, with 12 male residents surviving the battle. Descendants of each of the survivors still live in the city.
SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE
THINKING BACK ON HER COLLEGE SEARCH, JASMINE DIGLIO HAD ONE REQUIREMENT: “They had to offer a study abroad program.” She is fluent in Italian and opted to study in Milan, Italy, at L’Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore for the spring 2023 semester.
At Southern, Diglio commutes to the university. The longer program allowed her to spread her wings, navigating everything from applying for a visa to finding housing overseas. She lived with seven women, who hailed from Finland, Mexico, and four states in the U.S.
The group formed fast friendships. “We are in contact almost every day, sending funny videos and updating each other on what’s going on in our lives,” says Diglio.
She also excelled, earning straight A’s in coursework and securing a summer internship for when she returned to the states. The interview took place virtually: “Being overseas was a great conversation starter,” she says.
A PICTURESQUE SETTING
THE ITALIAN LANGUAGE AND THE ARTS are the focuses of a trip to Tuscany, jointly led by Pina Palma, professor of world languages and literatures, and Jeremy Chandler, professor of photography. The trip is based in the pastoral town of Montepulciano, in the Tuscan countryside, halfway between Florence and Rome. Students also may choose to enroll in an optional course at Il Sasso Italian Language School in the city.
CITY OF LIGHTS
MANY STUDENTS WHO PARTICIPATE IN THE MONTH-LONG TRIP TO PARIS SPEAK FRENCH. But the program led by Luke Eilderts, associate professor of French, does not have a language requirement. Instead, all students enroll in at least one culture-based course with optional French courses offered as well.
Paris is a beautiful classroom, with students immersing themselves in the city’s art, architecture, cuisine, and history. Students also visit additional historic or heritage sites outside of Paris. Past destinations have included the Palace of Versailles and the medieval village of Provins.
FIFTY STUDENTS WILL TRAVEL WITH THE UNIVERSITY CHOIR TO THE UNITED KINGDOM IN MAY 2024 to perform in London, York, and Edinburgh. It will be the choir’s first time traveling since a concert tour of Italy in January 2020, weeks before the World Health Organization declared a Global Health Emergency due to COVID-19.
“We sang virtually for two years,” says Terese Gemme, professor of music and choir director. “Last year, we began rehearsing in person again with a much smaller group. But enrollment has doubled within the year, and we are ready to begin touring again.”
The Stutzman Family Foundation is generously underwriting the cost of the trip.
WHERE IN THE WORLD
- United Kingdom
- Chester and Poulton
- United Kingdom
- Rome (several educational programs)
- Spain (location to be determined)
- South Africa ■