Opening doors for students to study around the world

UAA offers a variety of courses for students, but not all of them are held in a lab or classroom. The Office of International and Intercultural Affairs assists in preparing for and coordinating trips outside of Alaska for those who want to study elsewhere.

Whether it’s for a semester, a year, or even just two weeks with UAA faculty, there are many options to choose from.

“[The office] is really there to support students in trying to integrate education abroad opportunities into their academic program,” Susan Kalina, vice provost for Academic Affairs, said. “And that actually can mean a few different things… You know, there’s traditional study abroad, which is a semester long, or sometimes a summer program.”

Kalina oversees the office and says that the opportunities are abundant. There are information sessions held throughout the year to help students make decisions regarding their destination of choice, duration of their trip and the best financial routes. The different programs can allow them to do take advantage of several types of education, such as GER classes and internships.

One type of program involves UAA faculty and allows them to teach a class abroad. Dorn Van Dommelen, a geography and environmental studies professor, and Hiroko Harada, director of the Montgomery Dickson Center for Japanese Language and Culture, traveled to Japan in 2015 for Van Dommelen’s class on tsunami preparedness.

It was a 10-day adventure that took them all over the country from its northern areas to the south and through a number of cities, opening their eyes to a new part of the world.

Dr. Van Dommelen’s class with students and faculty from Iwate University visiting the lone pine tree of Rikuzentakata, where UAA alumnus Montgomery Dickson died in the March 2011 tsunami.

Van Dommelen says that many students who choose to study abroad might be concerned about earning appropriate credits that will count toward their academic degree, particularly if they are studying something in business or the natural sciences. Fortunately, some of the programs are able to accommodate them.

“In engineering and business and the natural sciences, it can often be hard to get courses in a study abroad context to work in your academic major,” Van Dommelen said. “But there are a surprising number of programs out there that will allow students in those non-humanities or [non-arts] programs to find ways to study abroad.”

Joseph Sasis was one of those particular students on the trip to Japan. As a computer science and engineering major, Sasis says that he was the only one from the engineering department and had the class with Japanese majors and international studies majors. Despite the differences in their academic backgrounds, everyone as a whole helped gain the most out of their trip by sharing knowledge about Japanese culture and communication, as well as the science and math behind what they were learning.

One lesson Sasis took away from his experience concerned the unity and togetherness of Japanese culture and how it played a part in their efforts to be ready for natural disasters.

“They were so hard-pressed about the concept of being one in a community and they were very ‘others-oriented’ as opposed to being self-oriented,” Sasis said. “It was always about, ‘What can you do for the Japanese community?’ That’s why they’re so ready and prepared to be a part of this awareness to prepare each other for earthquakes or tsunamis.”

For Van Dommelen, these types of experiences are a new chance to learn about the world and experience cultures unlike our own. He says that remaining open and mindful can effectively impact the way we think.

“We put barriers up, especially our own cultural barriers, because that makes us feel comfortable,” Van Dommelen said. “I think a lot of students who have studied abroad do have a great appreciation for intercultural differences and an ability to understand and analyze their own cultural practices because of that.”

UAA students Alison Haines and Edward Yohak with students from Iwate University.

Sasis says that taking the opportunity to study abroad changed the way he looked at the world as well as the way he lives his life today.

“Ever since that trip, I’ve gotten more involved in Japanese stuff, even if it ranges from watching more anime to being more involved in what the Japanese culture has, like the festivals,” Sasis said. “I started bonding more with my family in Japan. Any trip abroad just brings a whole new look into life in general… Just exposing yourself to the world is a life-changing experience.”

Van Dommelen hopes to put together another faculty-led trip in the future and is currently working with the Office of International and Intercultural Affairs. Students who are interested in any type of education abroad are encouraged to start planning as soon as possible to discover what fits their needs and how they can receive the best experience.

The first Study Abroad 101 Information Session will be taking place on Thursday, August 24 in Rasmuson Hall Room 211 at 5:30 p.m.