Experiencing Other Countries a Life-Changing Experience
Atlanta is home to the world’s busiest airport and 70 consulates and honorary consular officers. Georgia State’s student body includes nearly 1,600 students from 111 countries who have traveled to Atlanta expressly to further their educations. Enrolled at Georgia State are another 2,900 foreign-born students from more than 150 countries across the globe, and last year more than 815 Georgia State students participated in a record 1,200 study abroad experiences.
Given these figures, it is highly appropriate that one of the five goals in Georgia State’s strategic plan is to achieve distinction in globalizing the university. This goal, like every goal in our plan, demands striving for innovation and achieving new levels of accomplishment. We could follow other universities in quantifying this goal down to the lowest common denominator, for example: increase the number of students studying abroad, the number of partnership agreements with universities and other entities outside the U.S. and the number of Georgia State faculty giving invited talks at foreign universities and international conferences. All of these are worthy aims that will benefit our students and faculty, and I am pleased that we have set records in a number of these categories over the past year. I am especially excited, though, by some of the ways in which Georgia State is pioneering new and exciting paths in international education.
On a trip this fall to China I had the pleasure of visiting the inaugural Georgia State cohort of high school students at Guangdong Overseas Chinese High School (GOCHS), in Guangzhou, China. This cohort of 11 students, 10 of whom are Chinese, are being taught exclusively in English by talented graduates of our College of Education. The program targets rising 10th graders who are academically prepared to be educated according to a standard American curriculum that is taught in English. The expectation is that these students will pursue their baccalaureate degrees in the U.S., and ideally at Georgia State. The only expense to our university is the administrative overhead of recruiting teachers for the program from our alumni and graduating students.My visit came only three weeks into the school year, and I was amazed by how quickly the students had embraced the American model of education. This was most evident when observing them participate in a drama club activity that included students in our program and students following the traditional Chinese high school model. The class, led by a Georgia State teacher, required groups of students to create and perform skits. Each group included students from our program and students learning the traditional Chinese way. It was abundantly clear the students from the Georgia State cohort were the leaders in every group, as they demonstrated the confidence to create, lead and take risks that is more characteristic of the American model of education.
One of only a handful of initiatives like it in China, the Georgia State program at GOCHS is an excellent example of how we are innovating and pushing beyond doing the same old thing with our international programs. It provides graduates of our College of Education with a great opportunity to gain valuable professional knowledge while also having a deeply enriching cultural experience. I have every expectation that the students and the teachers are going to benefit enormously from this program, and that the program will grow as we move beyond the initial cohort.
I am particularly passionate about encouraging Georgia State students to study abroad. The experience of arriving in a country and processing through immigration and customs for the first time is transformational. Memories of my own first experience traveling alone abroad are etched into my brain as if it were only yesterday. There is a certain fear or trepidation the first time, and yet that single experience can open up the world. Studying abroad not only teaches us about the cultures and customs of other countries, it also forces us to examine more deeply our own culture and customs. For most of us it takes only a single experience of traveling abroad to develop the confidence and curiosity to travel or work abroad as future opportunities present themselves.
A unique program recently developed at Georgia State is our Study Abroad with Peers program. This program builds on the work of our emerging markets task forces that have grown out of our strategic plan, and information about the program can be found at the Study Abroad with Peers blog and in the program brochure. Two complementary programs that provide excellent cross-cultural learning opportunities for Georgia State students here in Atlanta are the Panthers Abroad Learning Society and the Global Ambassador Program, which links international students with U.S. domestic students to extend person-to-person intercultural education. These programs provide Georgia State students with terrific opportunities to prepare themselves for traveling and working internationally with confidence.
Ours is a truly international community, and following our strategic plan we are finding new and creative ways to provide our faculty, staff and students with exceptional and innovative ways to engage the world as they pursue their scholarly endeavors.