Study abroad within reach of more due to CIE efforts

Megan Binkley, Staff Writer

For much of the last millennium, the high cost, perils, and discomfort of the open road have placed travel beyond the reach of the average individual. While many transportation improvements have been made — especially within the last two-hundred years — cost still remains a prohibitive factor, especially for the younger members of society, despite a growing emphasis on collegiate-run study abroad trips. For first-generation, low-income, immigrant, and technical school students, simply finishing their associate degree while juggling professional and personal responsibilities is often laborious enough. Finding the time and money to study abroad on top of all this often isn’t even on the radar.

Yet in a globalizing job market, study abroad experience is becoming increasingly important. In a 2016-2017 local poll, 90% of employers in the Madison College district rated cultural sensitivity as “important” or “very important.” Additionally, multiple employers in the Madison Area offer higher entry level wages for bilingual employees, or raises for employees who become fluently bilingual during employment. With demands and opportunities like these facing the next generations of workers, Madison College has been confronted with the task of making studying abroad widely accessible.

The Center for International Education (CIE) at Madison College has been striving towards campus diversification and increased study abroad opportunities for years. While the department is relatively easy to find—both in person and online—the Education Abroad Coordinator, Tammy Gibbs, says that technical college students often don’t realize study abroad options exist. “Really the biggest challenge for us at the college is letting people know that there are study abroad options available,” she said. “Often students—when they choose a two-year college or a community college—assume that study abroad is no longer an option for them. But that’s not the case.”

CIE has offers programs, both abroad and on campus, for students interested in exploring other cultures. Most notable are the 28 international programs currently listed on their website spanning across five continents. CIE has also facilitated the Cultural Connect Program, which pairs domestic students with students studying here from abroad to enable cultural exchange and help the international students acclimate to a foreign environment, as well as the World Students Association, a student club focusing on global and international issues.

The experiences and friendships that spring from these exchanges are often as memorable as they are enriching. Many of the students who participate in these groups come away describing their multinational peers as ‘their Madison College family.’ Gibbs describes how several pairs of international-domestic friends have switched roles, with the domestic student going abroad to visit their international friend. For students for whom studying abroad is not imminently accessible, these programs are incredible ways to broaden their horizons, and open their futures to a host of new experiences.

For students who are considering studying abroad within the next year, Gibbs emphasizes that now is the time to do so. Just this year, CIE received a singularly large grant to help fund study abroad trips, meaning that adventures in far-off lands are now the most affordable they’ve ever been for Madison College students.

In an effort to heighten awareness of this opportunity, CIE has scheduled a Study Abroad Fair for Sept. 19, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Cultural Exchange Center (D Wing of the Truax, first floor). The Fair will include tables for all of the short-term, faculty led programs (10-15 days long), where students can interact directly with the faculty organizing the trips. Highlights of this category include Dental Hygiene Care in Belize, a Culinary Program in Italy, Traditional Healing in Thailand, Renewable Energy for International Development in Belize, and a Gender and Women’s Studies Program in London.

Additionally, there will be tables for the medium length programs: roughly a month long, and usually centered around language immersion. There will also be a table for the semester-long programs, including opportunities in Botswana, Chile, Thailand, England, Ireland, Austria, Spain, and China. There will also be a table focused entirely on financial aid available to students. In addition, there will be a second, smaller presentation on Sept. 26 from noon to 1 p.m. in the same location specifically covering financial aid and scholarships for Madison College students studying abroad.

Many Madison College students who have previously studied abroad have valued their time learning in another country. Stephen Taylor, a Madison College student and participant in the Costa Rica Spanish Language Immersion Program from the summer of 2017, spoke glowingly of his 27 days in Central America. “The people there received me very well,” he said. “I was so welcome, I met (and interacted with) four or five neighbors there over the course of four weeks.” He went on to recount exchanging food with his neighbors on behalf of his host mom, and the range of new fruits he got to try through the interaction. “The genuine kindness and openness (was astounding).” Taylor also identified the cuisine, the immersive Spanish classes, snorkeling, and being totally engulfed in Costa Rican culture as the high points of his trip.

Taylor also touched on the perspectival benefits of travel. “I think anyone who may be close-minded, if they could travel to a place like Costa Rica, or another place with that sense of community, it could help save a person from a life of close-mindedness, and help open them up to some things they wouldn’t otherwise get to see.”

For students who are interested in following Taylor’s footsteps, either literally, to the vibrant heart of San Jose, or figuratively, to one of the 27 other programs available through Madison College, the upcoming Study Abroad Fair is a must-see. So set aside some time, stop by the Cultural Exchange Center at Truax, and explore what CIE — and the world — have to offer you.