Appalachian students experience the world

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Recent world headlines have carried news of extraordinary events in Egypt, New Zealand, Japan and other countries. When political unrest or natural disasters occur around the world, most of us watch the news and feely badly for the people of those countries. At Appalachian, the first thought of many faculty and staff members is, "I wonder how many students we have there?"

Hundreds of Appalachian students study abroad each year. Name a country, and chances are Appalachian students have studied there. Appalachian's Office of International Education and Development (OIED) works with students to help them understand the many opportunities available and to help them make a plan that incorporates an international experience into their individual programs of study.

Appalachian has established 66 university partnerships in 27 countries around the world. The OIED's goal is to have meaningful and active partnerships on nearly every continent.

Appalachian offers two types of international study programs:

  • short-term, faculty-led opportunities; and
  • longer-term student exchange and study abroad programs.

The faculty-led shorter-term international study programs generally take place during semester breaks and over the summer. During the 2009-2010 academic year, more than 650 Appalachian students participated in these educational experiences. These programs took faculty and students to more than 30 different countries, including Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, England, France, Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, Greece, India, Nicaragua, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Uganda, and the West Indies.

More than 170 Appalachian students took advantage of international exchange and study abroad opportunities during the 2009-10 academic year. These students lived in a foreign country and studied at a university, many for a semester or longer. Appalachian students studied abroad in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, North America, Oceania (Australia and New Zealand), and South America.

"We don't limit our students in terms of destinations, unless there are U.S. State Department restrictions," explains Jeanne d'Arc Gomis, assistant director, international student exchange and study abroad. "We have exchange partners, and sometimes those partners limit the number of students we can send to popular locations like Australia, England and the Netherlands in a given year. But if the student is flexible, we can work together to provide a meaningful international education experience."

There are some requirements. Students must have a GPA of at least 2.75 and be in good standing with the university. The foreign university they want to attend also must offer courses that will meet requirements in their program of study at Appalachian.

The OIED begins informing and educating students about international study opportunities as soon they step on campus for freshman orientation. The key messages students and their families should remember are:

  • International study is affordable. Students can use financial aid, while many of the exchange programs require students to pay primarily their Appalachian tuition and travel costs. Some scholarships also are available;
  • Students can study abroad and still graduate on time with advanced planning;
  • Proficiency in a foreign language isn't necessary. There are opportunities for students who speak English only;
  • Students from all majors are encouraged to apply;
  • General education, major, minor and elective course credits can be earned abroad;
  • Students can travel safely; and
  • During one's college years may be the best time for an international experience, before the responsibilities of a career and family take precedence.

Most Appalachian students who study abroad for a semester or longer choose to do so during their junior or senior year. The OIED recommends students start the research and application process at least one year in advance, including applying for a passport, which they can do on campus.

"We will work with the students every step of the way," Gomis said. "Once applications have been approved and destinations determined, our pre-departure orientation programs inform students of health and safety issues and provide guidelines and procedures to ensure their experience is both rewarding and safe. We maintain contact with the students, their parents and our partner institutions around the world. The students' safety is our top concern."

In addition to Appalachian's network of partner institutions around the globe with which Appalachian has exchange agreements, the university also is a member of the University of North Carolina Exchange Program (UNCEP) and the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP). These give Appalachian students increased opportunities for international study almost any where in the world.

"We [OIED] encourage all students to seek international learning experiences to deepen their global and cultural awareness," Gomis said. "We strongly believe every student can and should study abroad regardless of major."

For more information about international study opportunities at Appalachian, see http://international.appstate.edu/education.