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A group of students in Madrid

Students tour Madrid.

Study abroad program offers worldly view

March 9, 2018
|
San Diego Community College District

San Diego City College student Joe Toribio found far more than he expected when taking part in a study abroad program in Madrid this past January. 

“I went with the goal of bettering my Spanish because many businesses and organizations in areas with a large Spanish-speaking population like San Diego need people who are bilingual,” said Toribio, who aspires to become a sports nutritionist. “We studied the proper way to write and speak Spanish at Universidad Complutnese. We also learned to translate English and Spanish. But beyond that, just being with a host family was amazing. They treated me like their son and cared about me since day one. It was an unbelievable experience that gave me a new perspective on life.”

It is because of reviews like Toribio’s that the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) is moving to broaden its global reach.

In addition to expanding study abroad programs that enable students from San Diego City, Mesa, and Miramar colleges to study culture in Costa Rica, Spanish in Spain, and fashion in France, the district wants to boost international education events on campus, explore international partnerships across the globe, and internationalize the curriculum by sending instructors to educational conferences overseas.

“San Diego is a diverse and complex border community where international perspectives, experiences, and global learning are vital in preparing students to meet the needs of employers and have fulfilling careers,” said Dr. Stephanie Bulger, SDCCD’s Vice Chancellor, Instructional Services Division. “The district’s international focus is consistent with its role to propel the San Diego region forward.”

A Districtwide International Education Committee is leading the effort. Members of the committee – which is expanding its vision to align, coordinate, and advance global learning outcomes – say it is important for any student who so desires to have a strong international component in their curriculum. It is doing that by developing a multi-year International Education Plan, and recently requested a small grant from the California Colleges for International Education to promote a unified look, voice, and feel to current study-abroad promotions and efforts.

“For many students, their community college experience will be their only opportunity for international learning, which is why we are working together to increase the options that are available,” said Dora Schoenbrun-Fernandez, a professor of Spanish at Mesa College who sits on the International Education Committee as its faculty coordinator.

Districtwide, much has already been done. More than 200 students have participated in study abroad programs over the past three years. In addition, students are expanding their world view through foreign language courses ranging from Spanish and French to Italian, Arabic, and Tagalog. All three colleges offer an Honors Global Competencies Certificate enabling students to gain a global perspective in multiple areas in order to enhance their critical thinking and intercultural understandings needed to compete in today’s global economy. Courses such as Asian Philosophy at City, Middle Eastern Dance at Mesa, Arts of Africa, Oceania & the Americas at Miramar, and Ethnic/Regional Foods at Continuing Education underscore the district’s commitment in focusing on cultural awareness.

“Each institution does an excellent job with approaching internationalization efforts in unique ways and has pursued successful study abroad programming, international and multi-cultural activities, or outreach efforts, said Dr. Bulger. “Diverse and international perspectives can be found throughout the campuses and within the classrooms.”

Among the areas of focus in the international education plan:

- Developing partnerships with international organizations or institutions that could cover areas such as career education, transfer opportunities, or college preparation courses.

- Internationalizing the curriculum by developing global learning awareness, competency, and outcomes.

- Capitalizing on opportunities to advocate on behalf of the SDCCD in nations interested in the community college model.

- Enhance access to external funding that would support international education.

The study abroad program would remain at the center of international education efforts, and the Mesa College Vocal Ensemble embodies the impact global travel can have on a student’s life. It has toured Australia, Canada, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Japan, and will be performing in the Czech Republic and Poland this June.

“It truly is unbelievable what our students are getting out of these trips,” said Dr. Richard Chagnon, who has headed the Vocal Ensemble for more than three decades. “Not only lifelong memories, but by getting together with people from other countries to sing with them, to perform with them, to break bread with them, you’re providing an opportunity to discover what being a human is all about.”

Melody Ebner agrees. Ebner was with the Vocal Ensemble during a series of performances in Puebla, Mexico, during the summer of 2016.

“It turned to be an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Ebner, who has since transferred to San Diego State University, where she is majoring in music education. “We met people who were performing there from Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, and the Czech Republic. It was eye-opening. We learned about different cultures, about the different ways people from other countries viewed the world. And we learned a lot of different musical styles. I can’t say enough about the impact that trip has had on my life.”

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