New education abroad committee established

At the Nov. 3 Faculty Senate meeting, the creation of a committee for education abroad was resolved. The committee is designed to open more doors for UAA students who are interested in spending time at a university abroad.

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Photo credit: Jian Bautista

Even though UAA is already partnering with a few international institutions, the committee aims to broaden the range of exchanges offered.

To help set direction, ensure faculty involvement in the development of education abroad programming and provide input on processes, the committee for education abroad was established. Several faculty members have already shown interest in the idea.

Paul Dunscomb, chair of the history department, is anticipating being on the committee. As an undergraduate student, he spent a semester in London and attended a university in Japan as a graduate student.

“We are at a global crossroads here in Anchorage, so whether we want to or not, we’re part of the wider world. So having greater opportunities to get our students out into that is definitely a good thing,” Dunscomb said.

The Office of International and Intercultural Affairs is in charge of the university’s study abroad programs. For a university with about 14,000 students enrolled, the office is quite small; at the moment, there is only one employee working it.

“It does very important work, but when we’re talking about the level of coordination… it does actually need to be on a higher level,” Dunscomb said. “There is a lot of administration required for getting joint programs set between universities.”

The committee for education abroad was initiated by Dorn Van Dommelen, a geography professor at UAA. He also served as Chair of International Studies for a number of years.

He advised numerous students planning to spend time abroad and led two faculty trips to China and Japan.

With the committee, Van Dommelen aims to achieve two main points: organizing faculty involvement with education abroad and setting up systems that will allow UAA faculty members to take students abroad more easily.

“There are lots of faculty members that work to get their students studying abroad or do all sorts of cool opportunities. But as a faculty, we haven’t been very systematic about this,” Van Dommelen said. “The goal here is to really get faculty systematically thinking about what should students be doing when they go to study abroad and what could we as faculty do to develop programs.”

The programs he is mainly focusing on do not necessarily involve a stay over one or more semesters. These so-called short-term study abroad programs are becoming increasingly popular.

“There’s a whole lot of evidence right now that what are called short-term study abroad [programs], and are really effective ways to get students studying abroad who otherwise wouldn’t,” Van Dommelen said.

Short-term study abroad programs are about two or three weeks and usually faculty-led. They prove to be impactful and very efficient if they are well-planned.

To Von Dommelen, education abroad is valuable on many levels.

One is the intercultural experience, getting to see the world through somewhat different eyes than your own, it helps you to see your own culture in important ways. Also, on a really pragmatic level… we live in a global world where everyone is doing business with everyone,” Von Dommelen said. “Not having an international experience can really handicap someone who is afraid to go abroad, who is afraid to see the world in a way that might be different then what they are used to see.”

Rose Kruger, languages major, spent a year in Aachen, Germany after graduating high school.

“Studying abroad after high school was one of the best things I’ve done for myself… It was while I was studying in Germany that I figured out what I wanted to do with my life,” Kruger said.

Spending time at a university in a foreign country as a university student could be enriching for students.

“It is vital for students to experience other cultures outside of there own,” Kruger said.

The committee is aiming to pave the way for that. It is still in the early stages, but further steps will be determined in the following weeks.