Study Abroad Program Offers Concentrated International Experiences for Mississippi College Students
Mississippi College students from a wide range of academic disciplines have the opportunity to expand their experiential knowledge globally by participating in one of a series of two-week academic excursions throughout the world this spring as part of a robust Study Abroad Program.
Beth Stapleton, professor of modern languages and director of the McMillan Center for Education Abroad, said the short-term offerings are drawing a record amount of interest from MC students seeking to acquire knowledge and skills that can only come from being submerged in an entirely different social environment.
“Students are tuning into the need to go abroad to augment their classroom education,” said Stapleton, the 2012 Humanities Professor of the Year at MC. “For those who don’t have the time to spend a whole semester or an entire summer abroad, the shorter, department-related trips during May present an excellent opportunity to learn new skills, increase flexibility and problem-solving abilities, and discover how to interact with different types of personalities.
“Students who have participated in the Travel Abroad Program recognize the skills they’ve developed – such as learning a new language or experiencing a new culture – help make them more marketable. It’s not just a tour; it’s an academic encounter abroad.”
Students in such diverse majors as business, nursing, English, communication, kinesiology, biology, education, and chemistry can benefit from participating in a number of short, culturally oriented trips to Austria, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, or Spain. To help them prepare for their experience, the Study Abroad Program offers several pre-departure sessions that build a foundation of academic and cultural knowledge.
“By the time they go abroad, it’s like closing a loop on what they’ve already learned in these sessions, seeing everything first-hand,” Stapleton said.
Stapleton said that for some time, she has focused on providing short-term travel options that could include as many participants as possible.
“We have offered semester-long and summer-long programs, but there were a number of students who couldn’t dedicate that much time to an international trip,” she said. “The short-term options are a more concentrated experience that allows students to get departmental credit in their respective majors.
“Across all Study Abroad offerings, the short-term program is growing faster than any of the others.”
That’s not to say that the longer trips sponsored by the Study Abroad program are suffering from diminishing appeal. To the contrary, the semester-long programs in the fall and the spring and the summer-long program – each of which expands the list of locales to include Costa Rica, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan – remain as popular as ever.
“Whenever possible, we prefer students stay for at least a month or two, because it allows them to spend more time immersed in the language and adapting to the culture,” Stapleton said.
Jack Spears learned about the Study Abroad Program in high school; by the time he enrolled at MC, the biology major from Lenoir, North Carolina, was eager to participate. In January, the freshman will embark on a semester-long trip to Costa Rica, staying with a host family in Heredia and attending class at Universidad Nacional.
“My goal is to go on as many hikes as I can in the rainforest nearby, tour the surrounding city while eating at many sodas, and meet as many new people as possible,” Spears said. “I hope to make mini excursions on the weekends to try and see as much of Costa Rican diversity in culture and nature as possible.
“I also have a trip planned with the University Studies Abroad Consortium to go through South Costa Rica and spend some time on tropical islands on the Costa Rica and Panama border.”
He said the environment and countryside of Costa Rica were the principal reasons he wanted to travel to the Central American country.
“I am a huge outdoorsman, and the fact that Costa Rica contains one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world is fascinating to me,” he said. “It has also been counted as one of the happiest countries in the world, which is something that I cannot wait to experience.”
By delving into a culture unlike any he has experienced, Spears expects to encounter many rewarding challenges.
“Having to communicate while not knowing the language and learning a new culture will be interesting,” he said. “Coming to appreciate the diversity of a new place while not knowing anyone will be difficult. But I will also be able to succeed academically by learning Spanish and gaining a Spanish minor while abroad.”
Likewise, Erin Gabrielle Jones has been interested in the Study Abroad Program since taking voice lessons through MC’s Department of Music in 2013. The senior vocal performance major from Clinton will head to the Far East in January to attend Nagasaki University in Japan as part of MC’s Study Abroad Program.
While she has yet to learn about the specific activities she and her peers will be participating in during the trip, Jones said she is eager to join in the culture.
“Nagasaki is rich with life and history,” she said. “We will have plenty of practice to explore the Japanese language and culture. The program pools people of diverse backgrounds to travel and study together, which I believe will enrich my understanding and expand my worldview as I learn a foreign language.
“For many students, Mississippi College functions as its own ecosystem of similar beliefs and worldviews. Studying abroad allows us to break out of the ‘MC Bubble,’ supplying us with new opportunities for perspective and cultural empathy.”
Carefully orchestrated by Study Abroad personnel experienced in international travel, each trip is composed or led by MC faculty members who understand how students can get the most out of their academic sojourn.
Steve Price, professor of writing and English secondary education, learned the value of MC’s Travel Abroad Program when he participated in a Spring Break trip to Amsterdam, Belgium, and London in 2004 as a young faculty member. He now serves as director of the semester-long MC in London Program and will shepherd students through the Home of Big Ben throughout the spring.
“The students will be taking a full load of courses in the Kensington area of London, one of the most vibrant, active parts of the city,” Price said. “They’ll have opportunities to tour sites in London and throughout England and the United Kingdom. They’ll take a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath and a weekend trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.
“While in London, the students will live in flats and have an opportunity to get to know a particular neighborhood.”
He said they can learn a great deal merely by participating in everyday activities.
“Simply walking to the grocery store in another country teaches you things about culture, customs, and how people communicate,” he said. “In addition, the Study Abroad Program challenges students to step outside their comfort zones. Students grow academically through classes, and they grow personally by trying new things and learning about themselves and their homes through the lens of a new country.
“What I love about studying abroad is that it takes learning out of the classroom. It can be a life-changing experience, and London has endless possibilities for our students. A bonus for teachers is getting to know students in a new way, outside of the classroom.”
MC has been sending students to London for more than 30 years. As the longest-running Study Abroad opportunity, it hasn’t become stale. In fact, Price plans to introduce some changes to this year’s trip.
“We are partnering with CAPA: The Global Education Network, which will allow us to maintain benchmarks in quality academics, immersion in the city, and a close, student-centered approach, while increasing the students’ choices in courses and activities, and improving health, safety, and support,” he said.
In March, MC’s Study Abroad Program also offers a Spring Break Tour for enterprising students interested in seeing “the best” of Germany and Austria. Undergraduate classes are offered in conjunction with the trip, with compulsory attendance each Tuesday for two months leading up to the tour. The trip is open to all MC students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community friends.
Traveling abroad is not limited to undergraduate and graduate students on the Clinton campus – students in the MC School of Law can participate in a program tailored specifically to them. It offers opportunities for travel to Mexico; Lille, France; Havana, Cuba; South Korea; and Berlin, Germany.
Stapleton said participating in the Study Abroad Program – whether for two weeks, during Spring Break, or throughout a summer or semester – can have a lasting impact on the college experience.
“If you talk to a lot of adults about the one thing they would like to change about their experience, most would say they would have loved to go abroad,” she said.