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Saturday, August 13, 2022

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SDSU offers over 350 education abroad programs in more than 50 countries. SDSU offers over 350 education abroad programs in more than 50 countries.

SDSU Faculty Reflect on Study Abroad

SDSU has a number of programs and activities planned to celebrate International Education Week.
By Bastian Treptau

The associate dean for the College of Arts and Letters and professor of linguistics called it “a way of life.”

To the director of the Italian language program it “is foundational because it changes how you view the world.”

The International Security and Conflict Resolution program coordinator said that it “gives students a real sense of perspective.”

And in a philosophy professor’s mind it has “the capacity to totally transform an individual’s future.”

The life-changing, transformative “it” that Eniko Csomay, Clarissa Clò, Allen Greb and Mark Wheeler praised unanimously, and yet in distinctly different ways, refers to studying abroad.

To get an idea of the diversity of study abroad programs and the minds that create them, these four SDSU professors — with decades of combined hands-on experience in international education — shared their thoughts on study abroad and how it impacts students.

With International Education Week just around the corner, attention will be focused on the importance of studying abroad. Faculty often play a key role in the study abroad experience, whether they are advising students to have an international experience or leading such an experience themselves.

Their viewpoints on the impact that international studies have had on their personal and professional lives are key to SDSU’s international story.

Doing the unusual

Some faculty members don’t need to convince students of the transformational ability of studying abroad. Such is the case for most of the ISCOR majors working with professor Greb. “Our students are required to study abroad,” Greb said, “but 99 percent of them want to do this as part of their education.”

For the short-term programs he develops, Greb places an emphasis on close cooperation with international partners.

“It gives the students a real sense of perspective of individuals from that country, from that city, from that university when faculty and students from host institutions overseas participate in the programs," he said.

Students who are looking for courses off the beaten path might find Greb’s offerings particularly compelling. “The students who come on the programs that I run have a taste for the unusual thing,” he said, which isn’t surprising given Greb’s history of leading study abroad courses to Estonia, Russia, Turkey, Portugal and New Zealand. He is currently working on a program to Georgia in Eastern Europe.

Wheeler, SDSU’s representative to the California State University academic council of international programs, is an advocate for long-term study abroad programs. Wheeler knows his subject matter as he looks back on more than 10 years of experience in helping students secure Fulbright fellowships that lead them on yearlong international endeavors.

“The yearlong program has a dramatic impact on the quality of the students’ education, professional, and personal development,” Wheeler said. It’s a great opportunity to become a much more sophisticated intellectual.” In his current role, Wheeler creates awareness for and promotes CSU International Programs across campus.

These programs, he said, are “terrific opportunities for our students,” combining benefits like resident credit, affordability, and highest academic standards. The biggest problem, according to Wheeler, is that more SDSU students are not aware of this study abroad option.

Changing lives

The reality that European professors interviewed have their own take on study abroad became clear when talking to professors Csomay and Clò.

Csomay, a native of Hungary, first travelled internationally in 1969. In 1981, she studied French in Paris for six weeks. Since then, she has travelled, studied and worked in so many places that she said between Europe and United States it doesn’t make a difference for her where she is because she feels so comfortable in both places.

In the last two years, Csomay has taken SDSU students to Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic and Austria. To her, the immediacy of the experience is one of the most important components to every study abroad program.

“From the taste of the food to the way of life, students have to process everything on the spot,” she said. “Just being in a foreign country 24/7 is very intensive.”

Clò agreed with Csomay. “I wouldn’t even be where I am now if I hadn’t done my first study abroad,” Clò, an Italian native, said. “You see that there are other ways of doing things,” she explained when talking about one of the key impacts of opening oneself to the world.

Clò leads her six-week Florence program around a certain set of central questions, including: “What does it mean to be a global citizen?"

“I want the students to observe; not just with an untrained eye — I want them to really pay attention,” she said.

Getting in the right mindset

What should students pay attention to before going abroad? How can they decide which program is the right one?

The approaches to these questions are as diverse as the faculty members consulted, ranging from “just follow your heart” to “go into it with your mind open.”

When it comes to the length of a study abroad program, Clò said: “A few weeks is enough to get a sense and feel of a place. But in terms of an academic curriculum, you can’t squeeze a semester in six weeks.”

Long-term program supporter Wheeler added: “The shorter programs that we offer are wonderful and have an important role, but yearlong programs offer an opportunity to grow in ways that shorter term programs don’t. The kind of context you can develop, the kind of work you can do, that immersion in a foreign language, really can transform an individual’s life.”

Students — current and prospective — as well as faculty and staff, can explore study abroad opportunities by searching the Aztecs Abroad database. The database features study abroad programs that last an entire year, as well as those that take place during the fall and spring semesters, or during breaks.

When it comes to studying abroad, what matters in the end, Wheeler said, is that students see the immense variety of study abroad options as “one of the great ways in which to shape your time at SDSU.”

For more information about international opportunities at SDSU, visit the Be International website.