If you were asked to locate Iraq on a world map, could you? According to a National Geographic global literacy survey, about 87 percent of students in the United States between the ages of 18 and 24 cannot. The survey went as far as to reveal that 11 percent cannot even locate the United States. While it is a genuine hope that everyone on this campus at least has a vague idea about where our own country is, the fact remains that we could stand to learn a little more about the world.
Such statistics and others have currently brought the attention of a number of members in Congress, enough to pass a resolution last November to declare 2006 as the ‘Year of Study Abroad.’
Through the resolution, the Senate has committed to encourage students to become more ‘globally literate,’ through study abroad opportunities. Among the personal benefits such as gaining ‘valuable global knowledge and cultural understanding,’ and even ‘develop[ing] the cultural awareness to avoid offending individuals from other countries,’ Congress has recognized, through the Higher Education Act of 1965, ‘that the security, stability and economic vitality of the United States in an increasingly complex global age depend largely upon having a globally competent citizenry and the availability of experts specializing in world regions, foreign languages and international affairs.’
In other words, the more students study abroad, the better off America will be in the future.
The resolution requires the cooperation of ‘secondary schools, institutions of higher learning, businesses and government programs to promote and expand study abroad opportunities.’
At UC Irvine, however, it seems that the notion of studying abroad has been a top priority for years and it was only a matter of time before the topic gains awareness at a national level. The Center for International Education at UCI has worked tirelessly to help students find such opportunities through programs including the UC Education Abroad Program and the UCI International Opportunities Program.
According to CIE Administrative Director Marcella Khelif, ‘For the last several years, 14 percent of UCI undergraduates have studied abroad,’ as opposed to the national figure of 9 to 12 percent of undergraduate students in the United States.
‘Studying abroad is an option every student should consider,’ Khelif said. ‘There are so many benefits from going to another country, but most of all, you gain understanding that the way we think is not necessarily how others in this world think. You come back with a better perspective about the world around you.’
As a part of UCI’s strategic plan, ‘A Focus on Excellence: A Strategy for Academic Development at the University of California, Irvine 2005-2015,’ plans to increase interest in studying abroad have been set in motion, and students can expect a greater presence of international-related activities on campus. This goes along with the intentions of the national Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program to ‘establish a goal of 1 million students studying abroad annually by 2016-2017.’
Increased participation on the students’ part is crucial, since funding by the commission to promote studying abroad will be granted to institutions with the potential to make this goal a reality.
‘We’re working on that now, because we want to be there first when the commission gives out scholarships to qualified universities,’ Khelif said.
So far, CIE has coordinated meetings called ‘Country Chats,’ in which students can extend beyond the typical informational session by discussing with students who have recently returned from studying abroad in countries ranging from China to South Africa.
CIE has also been working for the last two years to integrate EAP into the majors offered at UCI. It meets twice a year with faculty to find ways to embed studying abroad in academics. Plans have been made to meet with peer academic advisors in order to brainstorm other ideas to further encourage this aspect.
International awareness will also be more present in housing communities. Recently, Arroyo Vista has accepted applications for students to live in a new international village which will house both UCI and foreign students. It is another coincidence that the residence will open this fall, since its development was planned for several years. In Middle Earth, another hall will be available for students in the fall, with the theme of ‘Exploring Studying Abroad.’ And in the coming weeks, both Middle Earth and Mesa Court will host weekly meetings called ‘Stories From Abroad’ which will pair peer academic advisors with returnees to answer questions about studying in other countries.
CIE basically wants to get the message across that studying abroad is a possibility to seriously consider.
‘Yes, you can go abroad. Yes, you can graduate in time. And yes, there is something out there for everybody. Right now is the most exciting time for studying abroad since the Fulbright Program was established [in 1946]. We’d really love for every student to at least consider the opportunity. Tell a friend,’ Khelif said.