Fresno State wants students to see the world

Raven Kapphahn has spent summers studying in Ghana and Finland. She is in a yearlong program to learn Arabic in Amman, Jordan.
Raven Kapphahn has spent summers studying in Ghana and Finland. She is in a yearlong program to learn Arabic in Amman, Jordan.

Raven Kapphahn has spent summers studying in Ghana and Finland. She is in a yearlong program to learn Arabic in Amman, Jordan.

The Office of Study Abroad and International Exchanges (SAIE) at Fresno State has stepped up its efforts to spread awareness of its study-abroad opportunities.

Sarah Lam, coordinator of global education at Fresno State, said the office wants new college students to learn about what they can gain from studying in a classroom in another country.

“What we have been doing is we’ve done a lot of classroom visits and also going to different clubs, different organizations, [the] residence hall, to tell them about the study-abroad program,” she said.

Lam’s goal in classroom visits is to encourage curious students to attend a study abroad information meeting. She believes that the meetings can go a long way to ease any fears the students may have.

One of the primary concerns that the office has been trying to alleviate among students is financial aid, or more specifically, how a trip to live for a short time in another country will be paid for.

“People think that they can’t afford it,” said Henry Delcore, a Fresno State professor on the president’s task force for internationalization. “People are also worried it’s going to delay their graduation, which also has implications for finances. So when I talk to students about study abroad, I take those head-on. You can’t leave those topics. You have to address them.”

What many students don’t understand, Delcore explained, was that they could use their financial aid benefits to fund the trip.

“If you look at the cost of certain programs, they’re actually comparable to staying here on campus and studying,” he said.

There are also around 20 scholarships available.

“There are scholarships, in some cases, very lucrative scholarships, for students to study abroad. Some of which our students at Fresno State have underutilized,” Delcore said.

Studying abroad is not just for those who plan on working on their majors. Freshmen and sophomore students are able to complete course requirements for general education or work on a minor degree.

The units gained abroad easily transfer back to Fresno State.

Lam said that, though the number of options for studying abroad is rather high, not every major is supported. But instead of letting the chance pass, she asks that students visit and find out for themselves.

Another issue that Lam has faced is students who come in with predetermined ideas of which country they want to visit. She uses the example of Spain, which sits high on the list as the third-most-popular destination.

A student might say, ‘if Spain does not offer my major, then study abroad is not for me,’ Lam said. “Students need to have the sense of adaptability and to appreciate the study-abroad experience in itself is a high-impact learning experience – it’s life-transforming.”

Lam is not just focusing on students. The program has been expanding its effort to engage the faculty as well.

“There is an increasing interest among our faculty to teach abroad, and that helps to motivate or inspire students to participate,” she said.

Fresno State is a part of The University Studies Abroad Consortium, Delcore said, which gives instructors the opportunity teach abroad over the summer between semesters.

During the summer, Delcore will teach in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for five weeks.

“For some students, that really helps, because I can say to my students, ‘I’m going to be there. I’m going to teach the course,’ he said. “It kind of takes away some of that unknown element.”

Besides Delcore, there will be six visiting instructors from Fresno State teaching abroad over the summer.

Delcore said the program has seen some success in bringing in instructors and has received 16 applications from instructors who wish to teach over summer in 2014.

Fresno State junior Kimberly Amico is spending her semester in the Czech Republic city of Prague after being accepted into the University Study Abroad Consortium in July 2012.

“Studying in another country is something that I have always wanted to do,” Amico said. “The opportunity to travel, meet new people and explore another culture was finally at my fingertips, and I knew it would be an incredible experience that I could not pass up.”

Going to a new country can make a student both a little anxious and excited. Amico was concerned about how to cope with stepping into a completely different world.

“I was definitely anxious about coming to a new country,” Amico said. “I was nervous about the language barrier, establishing a daily routine, getting around the city, being thrown into a new life with new people and the classes.”

Amico said the staff at the study-abroad program was eager to help her answer any questions she had.

“The staff in the Study Abroad and International Exchanges Office was extremely helpful and they were probably as excited for me as I was,” she said.

Raven Kapphahn has been a part of the study-abroad program since her visit to Ghana in 2011. A year later she spent the summer in Finland.

For the past six months, she has been studying Arabic in a yearlong trip in Amman, Jordan.

Kapphahn recalled that her first summer studying abroad was far from emotionally calm.

“I wasn’t anxious almost to a fault,” she said. “For my first to trip, I didn’t even do research on what I should expect. With Jordan, I did do research, but my anxiety didn’t start till I was in the plane almost to Jordan.

“I was just anxious because I was in a country where I didn’t speak the language and couldn’t read the signs, also because their culture was so very different from my own.”

Though she is a veteran of the study-abroad program, Kapphahn doesn’t see herself slowing down any time soon.

After she returns home and spends time with family and friends, Kapphahn said she may once more travel to another country, specifically one where she can practice Arabic.

“I feel that it is crucial to explore the world we live in by stepping outside of our own culture and viewing life through the lens of the unfamiliar,” she said. “Studying abroad is the perfect opportunity to do just that.”

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