Expand your horizons

By Bonnie Blankinship

At the Expand Your Horizons Fair on Sept. 14, students can learn about the many ways to take their education beyond the classroom — through study abroad, research with faculty, co-ops and internships, and service-learning experiences.  

Even better, students can combine several of those aspects into their studies abroad, performing community service, conducting research or working with a foreign company. International Programs and Partnerships (IPP) is working with global partners to increase the number of opportunities, said Dr. Marcia Salazar-Valentine, IPP executive director.

BGSU students can participate in University-sponsored programs or any number of BGSU-approved programs from other institutions, said Dr. Nathan Richardson, chair of Romance and Classical Studies. He and Salazar-Valentine, along with Assistant Vice President for Student Career Success Jeffery Jackson, director of the BGSU Career Center and Student Employment, visited businesses and volunteer facilities around Madrid, Spain, this summer to begin forming new connections that will enable students from almost any major — from construction management to psychology to environmental science — to combine study abroad with their major course of study so they can graduate in the four years with all the required credits. Salazar-Valentine also visited BGSU’s study-abroad in Salzburg, Austria. “The plan is to expand these opportunities to other countries as well as Spain,” she said.

“It was a very fruitful trip,” Jackson said. “Our goal was to engage with companies and our BGSU program there to arrange additional opportunities for our students. We met with a major real estate company in Madrid and with multinational businesses including one that is a global leader in building and infrastructure development, and another in auditing, consulting, tax and advisory services. These companies are in international management and can provide excellent opportunities for our students. We hope to formalize agreements with them soon.

“We want to build multiple opportunities for our undergraduates to experience a high-impact learning experience, and to connect with them early in their college careers so they can better make informed decisions about their career preparation. And we want to create global leaders — if you’re only looking at things through the lens of the U.S., you’re missing something. The students we met with in Spain were so excited about what they were learning.”

Sometimes the experience is so life-changing that students return with new career goals in addition to having a much deeper understanding of other cultures.  

Last year, Andrea Haas, a bachelor of fine arts major with a concentration in photography and a minor in German, combined her two skills teaching art to 15- and 16-year-olds in an Austrian high school, or “gymnasium.”

“I had never planned to be a teacher, I’ve always been a student,” she said. Being on the other side of the classroom, “I never realized how much went into teaching.” With a new appreciation for the profession, she decided to become a teacher herself, as did Emily Dushek, who taught English to adults as part of her study abroad in Spain. The experience was so moving that she also decided to devote herself to teaching as a career.

Having that additional experience is invaluable in career terms, said Dr. Cordula Mora, director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship. “I believe participating in research is the secret to success as an undergraduate,” she said. “It’s very impressive what you can learn and accomplish when you engage in research and especially when you add to that study abroad. It’s the perfect way to make yourself stand out when you apply to graduate schools or in the job market.”  

BGSU students studying abroad have looked at such topics as the role of women in Morocco, the British electoral system, math teaching and Buddhist principles in Thailand, migrant families and education in China, and many more. Some have traveled as part of a class, some as part of exchange programs in the spring or summer, and others as part of semester or yearlong stays.

Both Haas and Dushek also participated in the Embracing Global Engagement undergraduate conference on internships, service and experiential learning in study abroad. The third annual conference will be held this year on Oct. 5, where students will share their experiences.  

“There are so many opportunities in other countries,” Richardson said. “We have connections with women’s centers, with immigrant services, with UNICEF, with government programs. And many of these service-learning opportunities for our students do not require a high level of language skills.”

BGSU is working toward establishing internships and co-ops as well as service-learning activities so that students pursuing degrees in counseling, early childhood education and numerous other disciplines can earn credit while they are engaged in experiential learning activities.

The 17 BGSU students studying in Salzburg this past year had a variety of internships and service positions, ranging from working in a university office, on a farm, and in a bakery to teaching German in a refugee house and English in schools.   

“I have been astounded again how much students benefit from this experience,” said Dr. Edgar Landgraf, director of the study abroad program in Salzburg that is part of the German, Russian, and East Asian Languages program. “They learn as much about work environments in Austria as they learn about themselves and what they like and do not like to do. They also are asked to adapt, be flexible, overcome shyness, and develop problem-solving skills. And, last but not least, students improve their language skills and gain confidence in their ability to communicate in German in everyday situations.”  

Sophomore Ben MangasMalorie Spencer discovered her interest in translation. “I worked at the International Office at the University of Salzburg, and doing so was a great opportunity to work on my German language skills by speaking with my co-workers,” she said. “I also truly value the translation experience I got when helping translate portions of the International Office webpage into English. I had never really thought about the possibility of working as a translator, and although I cannot envision doing that full time, I could certainly imagine doing occasional freelance translation work. I expected to get some experience with general office work and maybe to improve my interpersonal communication skills, but this experience gave me far more than just that.”  

Samantha Hudson volunteered teaching German at a refugee house run by the nonprofit organization Caritas, an experience that revealed a different side of life for the Bowling Green native. “For all that Salzburg is a beautiful, wealthy, and well-kept city, it is still large enough for there to be beggars on the street and people who sleep under bridges. It is also a hub for refugees, many of whom are trying to make their way into Germany,” she reported. “Every time I came in, we chatted a little before the lesson. It was interesting to hear about their lives, and they seemed to appreciate having someone who listened.”  

Sophomore Ben Mangas, whose family farms near Deshler, Ohio, is a finance major with a minor in Spanish. He would like to eventually work with an Ohio bank or business in which he could combine his business and language skills, and would welcome an internship with a business in Spain.

Mangas spent the summer in BGSU’s program with the University of Cardenal Cisneros, in Alcalá de Henares, northeast of Madrid. Living with a host family and speaking Spanish “from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, you’re immersed in the language and eventually the communication barrier is gone and you just say it, there’s no translation going on in your mind. But beyond that, I felt my interpersonal communication skills developed. I learned to read body language, gestures, mannerisms, the proper volume for speech, and some of the regional dialects.

“It’s also a great experience for personal growth,” he added. “You can’t be shy — you have to learn to speak up and ask when you need directions or answer questions people have. You’re representing your own culture and people often want to practice their English with you.”

Along with education abroad, the Expand Your Horizons Fair, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union, will include the Career Center, the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, the Center for Community and Civic Engagement and the Northwest Ohio Center for Excellence in STEM Education (NWO).