Will early study abroad inspire future global learning?

  • Children perform traditional dances for the Appalachian students.

Exploring a rain forest, touring a pineapple plantation and teaching children at a rural school were among activities that started the college experience for 13 students at Appalachian State University.

"It was a great way to kick off the college experience, meet new people and be able to bond with them," said one of the freshman travelers, Ally Pollock of New Bern. Kelsey Fuller of Maitland, Fla., says she's already planning another study abroad trip: "I am planning on going to Spain spring semester in my sophomore year."

Appalachian encourages students to take advantage of as many international education opportunities as they can during college so they become well prepared for life in a global society. Starting early may help. That's why the university sponsored a 10-day Costa Rica Freshman Experience before fall 2010 classes even started.

The program was tied to a semester-long General Education course once the students returned to campus, in which they further explored cross-national issues such as economics, immigration and sustainability.

The university plans to track the students during their four years at Appalachian to see how the Costa Rica program influences their course and study abroad choices. Similar experiences are being planned for 2012.

Preparing for life in a global society

Appalachian's goal was to offer students an international experience and see if they would engage in other activities later on, such as taking a foreign language and making room in their course schedule for another trip abroad in the junior or senior years, explained Dr. Garner Dewey. He is associate dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts and one of the program's faculty leaders.

"We looked at people's lives, food, how people make their living, conservation, country history, economics, global influences, and education; so many different things. We had the focus of the big picture," said Dewey, who is also a native of Costa Rica. "We were also teaching students to be good contributors and citizens to society, and to be competitive with other countries in good ways."

He said the students were also able to:

  • build confidence
  • make friends quickly
  • transition into college more easily
  • develop a more inquisitive nature

Back on campus, their General Education course in the Department of Geography and Planning cemented global-to-local concepts. "Academically, it was a very strong course and the class discussions were high level," said their professor, Dr. Kathleen Schroeder. "Their visit to a pineapple plantation where they saw Nicaraguan immigrants working the fields had a big impact on them regarding wealth and privilege. They came back to North Carolina paying more attention and could see the same things with immigrant workers here."

An exciting start to college

How has the program changed them? "Going on the trip gradually helped me work up to the work required in college because of the homework assignments we had," said Tyler Morton of Lexington. He is now a student in Appalachian's Honors College.

He added that he benefitted from seeing a different way of living. "It was a humbling experience. I've learned to not worry about the small, everyday things," said Morton, who plans to major in building sciences.

Pollock's advice to other students: Be open to other cultures. "It boosts your confidence to come into college and know that you've had that experience and you have a solid group of people before actually starting school," she said.

Pollock plans to major in communications disorders and will minor in Spanish because "it's cool to be bilingual."