“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.”
“Going abroad and really experiencing the culture of another country is one of the best things a person can do,” says RU Art Museum director Steve Arbury, who has led an art history study abroad trip to Greece for three summers. “The impact on the students' education is incalculable.”
What better way to augment a student’s education than walking the Great Wall of China after studying the Mandarin culture for a year or touching the Acropolis with the same hand that will be used to create sculpture back home at RU? And when traveling isn’t an option, bringing the culture to RU is the next best thing.
More and more students are choosing the option of studying abroad, a way of gaining hands-on cultural experience. And RU’s growing slate of overseas offerings through the International Education Center gives students a variety of options to choose from as well as a number of cultural festivals hosted on campus that bring the world to them.
These activities ares in addition to the center’s traditional international student support role.
In 1994, 40 students participated in RU’s summer study abroad programs, while in 2002, 100 students participated. Student participation in semester programs has also increased, from just under 20 in 1995 to nearly 40 in 2002. The center’s director, Joe Flory, says that interest in study abroad programs has risen over the last decade for several reasons.
“Students are more aware of our global interdependence,” says Flory. “They are beginning to understand that since we are one world, we are also one family.” He also thinks that more students realize that their career will involve global connections and that future success may hinge on understanding and appreciation of other cultures. Study abroad has become more affordable, more diverse and open to more majors, which also make traveling in the name of education more appealing.
RU currently offers summer programs to China, England, France, Greece, Kenya, Taiwan, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Mexico and Scotland. Semester programs in Austria, England, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Mexico and Scotland are also available. And Flory says that almost any study abroad interest can be met through his office with programs outside the university as well. Some university study abroad programs are discipline-specific, but many are not and enable students of any major to be involved. The biggest hurdle, says Flory, is getting students to realize that they can do it, that it is affordable, doesn’t necessarily require a foreign language and will not delay graduation. And there are options for those who never would study abroad without help.
“Our McGlothlin Scholarship program was created for those students who say, ‘I really would like to study abroad, but. ’ They just don’t think it’s an option for them because of monetary issues.” he says. In the inaugural year of the McGlothlin Scholarship program, 10 students traveled abroad and experienced things that changed their lives forever.
Lynda Underwood visited London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Dublin last summer as part of the program. “I learned more than I can put into words about so many things,” says the sophomore elementary education major. “The most interesting part about what I learned came more from having to survive for a month in a foreign land I had never been out of the U.S. until the trip.” Underwood funded the trip herself and was helped a great deal by the scholarship. “The trip was extremely educational in every way imaginable,” she says.
Funding for the McGlothlin Scholarship program is supported by the McGlothlin Endowment, created by a contribution of more than $1.5 million by alumna Sally Ann Cook McGlothlin’s family for the advancement of international programming.
Two McGlothlin scholars traveled to Greece in Arbury’s program last summer. “The students who went on this program last May were constantly awed by what they saw and experienced,” says Arbury. “For example, there is no way to put into words the sensation of actually standing in front of the Parthenon on the Athenian acropolis something the students knew only from pictures prior to going to Greece. Each day was filled with new and wonderful places and sights. I've been taking students abroad for over 20 years now and I've had former students tell me years later that their study abroad course was the most memorable and most educational course of their college careers and that what they learned proved invaluable to them later on in life.”
Another RU program created through generous funding by an alumnus is the Kirk Scholars program, now in its fourth year. Established by RU alumnus R.J. Kirk, the program enables a select group of students to study the Chinese Mandarin culture and learn the language, which is shared by more than 840 million people. After completing a year-long study of courses that develops introductory speaking, listening, reading and writing skills in the Mandarin language, Kirk scholars travel to China for two weeks to experience the country's culture.
Senior communication and advertising major Lucinda Swanson was selected to be in the 2000 2001 program and said the experience made a big impact on her life. “Being part of the Kirk Scholars program was probably one of the most awesome things I’ve ever done,” she says. “When I started taking the [Mandarin language] class and I learned how all the characters had meanings I got really interested in their culture. When I went over there, it was nothing like I had imagined. It helped me to improve my cultural understanding. I got to meet so many different people and it really broadened my horizons and helped me think in different ways. It was a great opportunity.”
The International Education Center also is dedicated to bringing a variety of cultural experiences to campus. Flory has directed several cultural festivals over the past four years, including Caribbean, Russian and Latin American. Every year students can count on a week-long Chinese New Year festival featuring Chinese films, dancing and martial arts demonstrations and a culminating “Night in China” event that brings approximately 300 students and community members to campus to sample Chinese foods and learn about Chinese culture.
Currently, the year-long African Cultures Festival is underway and has already featured a lecture by RU Fulbright Scholar in Residence Phelele Tengeni, an African Marketplace with music, dancing and crafts, and a performance by the Kusun Ensemble, traditional musicians and dancers from Ghana West Africa. Other events include an African film festival, an art exhibition, drumming festival and “A Night in Africa,” with arts, crafts, a fashion show, food and music.
The bonds forged overseas through the center and its activities have made a lasting impact on RU and its students in other ways as well. For example, in fall 2002 a Chinese delegation from the Zhejiang Education Institute visited RU’s campus to sign an exchange agreement with the university. RU’s relationship with the institute began with the first Kirk scholars’ journey to Hangzhou in 2000. Last summer, Kirk scholars spent three days at the institute, each paired with a local student. Similar relationships with other institutions are being forged, each with the goal of improving international education for RU students and students abroad.
Even with a continually expanding program base, Flory has his eyes on the future, with a long wish list. If given the funding, he would like to add more diverse study abroad programs by targeting specific majors, focusing on students’ diverse interests and offering trips at different times of year such as Christmas and spring break. He would also like to internationalize the curriculum more, add more international internships and draw more international students to Radford through scholarships. Flory began the cultures festivals four years ago and is intent on expanding the audience for them to include even more RU students as well as public schools and more of the community. Flory also played a role in the creation of the Kirk Scholarship program and would like to use it as a model to expand RU’s foreign languages program to include more non-Western languages such as Japanese or Arabic. Another of Flory’s goals is expanding the current international studies minor into an international studies major with concentrations in Asian studies, Latin American studies, African studies and more.