Monday, May 16, 2016

Albany State University: Study abroad prepares students for economic development at home

President Art Dunning

Southwest Georgia is an amazing place. It is a region with a rich history and a promising future. While this remains true, we must acknowledge that there is a larger world beyond our local and national borders — a world made up of different views, products, ideas and cultures. To further expand our local economy and prepare our students and citizens for a global marketplace, we must expose them to other cultures and world business models.

An interconnected marketplace that is not hampered by time zones or national boundaries connects all of us by acknowledging the social and economic links that exist in humanity. In some way, shape or form, we are all connected to each other through economic factors like trade or cultural influences and the sharing of knowledge. We can look to Southwest Georgia for an example. Consider the Cordele inland port (Cordele Intermodal Services), which allows for the transportation of commodities to the Port of Savannah, the second largest port on the East Coast, and the Port of Brunswick. These ports ship goods to global customers. Southwest Georgia pecans and peanuts are sold in countries around the world.

I’ve had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time working abroad in different capacities. As a member of the U.S. Air Force, I spent two years abroad in Southeast Asia, then two years as a Department of Defense civilian in northeast Thailand. I’ve also taught in Mexico City, instructing college and university administrators in higher education best practices. Without a doubt, I learned more about America while being abroad. It broadened my cultural, historical, political and educational perspective about the country that I lived in and my home country. This allows me to think globally about the future of higher education and the future of Albany State University.

Everyone can start thinking globally. Whether face-to-face, by phone or through the limitless reach of the Internet, we can interact with people from other countries and cultures regularly. We encourage our students, and yes our citizens, to take the time to learn a new language or take a trip to an international destination. The experience helps to develop perspective. Many of the instructors and staff members at Albany State University are from different parts of the globe including Belize, Nigeria, Amsterdam and China. ASU faculty member and 2016 Researcher of the Year, Dr. Seong Seo, is a Korean native. Dr. Seo has produced groundbreaking research for 14 years at the university and impacts students daily as a professor of chemistry.

The university plays an integral role in helping people of this community develop a global consciousness. We provide varied cultural experiences for many young people who would not otherwise have such an opportunity. This exposure broadens their worldview. ASU faculty and staff members stress to students the importance of studying abroad. Our Office of Global Programs, headed by Dr. Nneka Osakwe, coordinates study abroad opportunities to destinations around the globe, including France, Costa Rica, China, Japan and Peru. Since 2010, nearly 130 students, in various majors, have explored other cultures, histories and languages while taking classes and earning credits toward graduation. Last year, 16 ASU students received funding to travel abroad. We believe financial constraints should not limit a student’s access to this life-changing experience, and programs like the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program help to provide funding to U.S. students who desire to study or intern in other countries.

Studying abroad helps our students learn about new careers and how to fashion their careers in new and exciting ways. Studying abroad instills global and intercultural competencies. Students learn to interact with people from all walks of life, which prepares them to address such global issues as poverty, hunger and humanitarianism. Few life experiences will have such a sustainable impact.
Our state is growing in diversity daily and some of those populations are calling Southwest Georgia home. How amazing it is to know that our students’ study abroad experiences will help them to successfully interact with those citizens! Let’s embrace the importance of shared knowledge, assorted cultures and varied perspectives. The investment is worth it.

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