Study abroad opportunities increase within General Education

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Sophomore Kelsey Woodford already has one study abroad trip on her resume and hopes to add another before she graduates—a perfect example of what Appalachian State University wants to achieve by offering more international opportunities to freshmen.

"It has broadened my horizons a lot," Woodford said of her month-long experience in France and Germany on the War in Europe study abroad program. "Traveling abroad made me a lot more open minded and more interested in the world and the 'bigger picture.' Traveling made me more aware that there is a whole huge world outside of Boone."

Her 2011 summer experience was part of the university's General Education Program, the 44 hours of academic credit required of all students, regardless of their major. The General Education Program is increasing the number of study abroad sections of its courses, as Appalachian increases its overall focus on creating new opportunities for students to gain international experiences earlier and more often during their four years at Appalachian.

"Many students and their parents are concerned about the finances of studying abroad and the cost of taking on extra courses in the summer to get international experiences. We want more courses that offer study abroad opportunities to count toward the 44-hour requirements of General Education so that these experiences will do double duty for students," said Paulette Marty, a theatre professor who serves as director of the General Education Program. "Students can study abroad early in their college years and fulfill their General Education requirements, then also have enough time to plan for how additional international opportunities can fit into their four-year schedule."

Woodford, a public relations major, supports that idea. "I think a lot of freshmen get so wrapped up in their life and school that they forget that there is a lot more out there," she said. She wants to study abroad again, possibly in England, Scotland or Ireland.

What's offered

While Appalachian offers long- or short-term study abroad in nearly every academic discipline, the opportunities specific to General Education courses have been taught in these areas:

  • foreign languages
  • physical education
  • geography
  • English
  • history
  • theatre
  • sociology
  • technology

Most courses are offered during the summer, while others are taught during the regular academic year with week-long components either during summer or spring break.

There has also been a General Education-sponsored study abroad in Costa Rica the week before students began classes their freshman year. There are plans in the works to repeat the trip in 2013, perhaps this time at the end of students' freshman year.

The majority of courses in the General Education Program are in multidisciplinary themes called Perspectives—each Perspectives theme consists of a group of related courses tied to a common topic. The War in Europe theme that Woodford took combined history, literature, and sociology courses in a look at the causes and consequences of war in Western Europe. She earned six academic credits by taking courses with 28 other students—freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.

As participants in a common Perspective theme, the students were able to discuss what they were learning in their respective courses, share ideas and complete projects together. This study abroad will be offered again in 2012.

Other short-term, faculty-led study abroad programs for summer 2012 that carry credit in General Education's Perspectives themes include Theatre in Europe, Past and Present; Language in Germany; and Language, Literature, and Culture in Spain and France.

Why it matters

"Once you get out of the country, you see how things you assumed were universal really are not. It opens your eyes to how much cultural factors shape who we are and how we interact with the world," said Marty, who spent a semester in Greece and Rome as an undergraduate in the early 1990s and studied Renaissance drama for her master's degree in England. She encourages all students to get international experience.

Dr. Cameron Lippard from the Department of Sociology, one of three professors who taught in the War in Europe theme's study abroad, said, "You can sit in a classroom and talk about the travesty of war, but to actually see it? It's phenomenal." He studied in Germany while an undergraduate at Appalachian in the late 1990s and later in Mexico for graduate studies.

Limited perspectives limit a student's critical thinking, Lippard went on to say. "If you don't have exposure to differing perspectives early on, that damages your ability to learn. In an international experience, you have no choice but to be open. If you can do it early in your college career, you come back ready to discuss different perspectives in the classroom."