Study Abroad Fair showcases overseas opportunities for students

Abby Johnson studied in Peru in the summer of 2016 and included a visit to Machu Picchu as part of her experience. She graduated from WCU last May.

Editor’s Note: Keegan Wiggins, a WCU journalism and international studies major, wrote this news story targeted at students for The Western Carolina Journalist, the news website of the Department of Communication. With a focus on WCU’s recent study abroad fair, it is being presented here for informational purposes for the university’s faculty and staff.

The world is at your fingertips.

For Western Carolina University students, a trip abroad could range from a couple of weeks to a full year. Students have access to more than 60 countries including Japan, Germany, Slovakia, Thailand, Brazil, Chile and the United Kingdom.

The 11th annual Study Abroad Fair showcased these opportunities for students on Tuesday, Sept. 19, in the Grandroom of A.K. Hinds University Center.

According to Jim Gieser, the study abroad adviser, the main goal of the event was not only to inform students of the various opportunities that are available to them, but to help them find the best fit for their personal interests and academic needs as well.

“I hope they see that it’s possible and get a sense for all the opportunities that are available to them for the summer, for the semester, for the year,” said Gieser.

To Gieser, studying abroad is much more than going to another country.

“It’s about stepping out of the known and stepping out of what’s familiar, what’s comfortable for some people,” said Gieser. “And in that process, you learn so much about yourself and you learn so much about other societies, other cultures, about how they ‘do’ life.”

The Study Abroad Office provides students with six ways to study abroad: faculty-led, bilateral, the International Student Exchange Program, direct, third-party and internship.

WCU senior Kenyetta McGowens, an international studies and communication major, studied abroad in Bulgaria last spring semester.

Faculty-led courses range from one to three weeks and are led by a WCU faculty member in an international setting. These are specific WCU classes led by the university’s professors. Bilateral exchanges are an exchange of students between WCU and another university abroad. For example, a student from WCU would pay WCU tuition and fees, then attend Beijing University of Technology in China while the student from China would study at WCU.

With ISEP, there are two ways for students to travel abroad – a WCU student swaps places with a student from an ISEP partner university, similar to the bilateral exchange, or students can be directly enrolled at an ISEP partner university.

Direct enrollment is where a WCU student attends a partner university. Instead of an exchange, WCU students receive a discount at the host university. Some of our partner universities include Stellenbosch University in South Africa, Spain’s ILYC Language School and Italy’s Lorenzo Di Medici Institute.

When it comes to third-party programs, WCU’s Study Abroad Office doesn’t administer or control them. Before a student can apply for a third-party program, he or she must be approved by the office first.

In order to intern abroad, students have to use a third party that provides internships. If interested, students need to contact WCU’s Center for Career and Professional Development. Additionally, students should contact their adviser or department head to find the right fit for their major.

For students contemplating studying abroad, Peta Petidis, a foreign exchange student from Australia, encourages them to take the chance.

“I would 100 percent recommend studying abroad because you don’t get many opportunities in life to travel and it’s so much easier when you’ve got your university or institution backing you to do so,” said Petidis.

With the amount of opportunities provided by the Study Abroad Office, students can fine-tune their choice to fit the major. For example, Alastair Taylor, a foreign exchange student from the U.K., is here to study American history.

“My favorite thing [about studying abroad] is learning history in a different way, so I get to take a course about North Carolina history, and if you’re in the U.K., you would never get something like that,” said Taylor. “It allows a new take on your history, on your understanding of history, in a good way.”

If a student really just wants to visit a country he or she has never been to before, the Study Abroad Office will make sure the program fits academically with that student’s academic requirements. For example, WCU student Audra Bobender went to Sydney, Australia, because she really wanted to go somewhere new.

“I kind of chose it on a whim. Honestly, I just really wanted to study abroad and go to a country that I’ve never been to,” said Bovender.

For students who are on the fence about studying abroad, Gieser wants you to know: “After college, you have to get a job and pay the bills, so this is the opportunity to leave this time zone, cross the ocean and join a community of students from another part of the world and immerse yourself in that culture.”

Go see where WCU takes you!