University of North Florida students are really going places.
Of the 16,317 students enrolled at UNF last year, 555 of them studied abroad for credit, mostly through short-term faculty-led courses. When you do the math, that’s 3.4 percent of UNF’s students who are going international. According to data released by the Institute of International Education, only about 1 percent of college students nationwide are studying abroad, so UNF’s rate is triple the national average.
“Every year the Institute of International Education puts out a publication called Open Doors, which publishes data from a national survey that’s funded by the U.S. Department of State,” said Dr. Timothy Robinson, director of the International Center at UNF. “The annual report gives statistics on international student and scholars coming to the United States, as well as students from this country who study abroad.”
Robinson said the IIE provides raw data on the number of students participating in different categories of study abroad, including short-term (less than eight weeks), mid-term (summer) and long-term (a semester or more per year). Data recorded also includes the number of exchange students enrolled for a semester or longer at U.S. institutions, which are classified either as doctorate, master’s or baccalaureate institutions. UNF is considered a master’s institution.
“For the last six to eight years, we’ve been in the top 20s in our category for both the total number of students going abroad and the number of students doing short-term study abroad,” Robinson said. “We do a lot of short-term faculty-led programs, which are typically from 10 days to six weeks. About 425 of the 555 students who studied abroad last year fit into the short-term category.”
The most recent data released by the IEE, from the 2008-09 academic year, lists UNF in the Top 40 master’s institutions for the total number of study-abroad students. UNF came in 23rd nationwide, with a total of 446 students earning credit abroad.
UNF students traveled during spring break and will travel this summer with faculty-led courses to 19 countries — Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, China, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Italy, Netherlands, Peru, South Korea, Spain and Turkey — studying everything from business and construction to deaf education and public health. Students wanting to immerse themselves in other cultures for a semester or longer can study as exchange students at partner institutions in China, Egypt, England, Germany, Japan, Morocco and Spain. Business students can also study at the Coggin College of Business’ partner institutions in Argentina, Belgium, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, United Arab Emirates, Sweden and Uruguay.
"We have about 30 partner programs with other universities around the world and two-thirds of those are in the Coggin College of Business, which makes good sense because it's just a natural fit," Robinson said. "Nationwide, business programs have always been very international because that's where business takes place. They recognize professionally very clearly the value and importance of international relationships. A dozen or so years ago, Earle Traynham, the dean of the college at the time, made international studies a priority for his college. He had the foresight to do that at that time."
When Dr. Jeffrey Steagall
submitted a proposal for UNF to develop a
reputation in the field of international business in 1996, he had the backing of Traynham, who had asked him
develop the plan. To Steagall’s
Traynham approved every detail. “We
can do all of this,” Traynham
program in the Coggin College of Business is thriving, having attained flagship status in 2006 — only one of four UNF programs to do so. The
designation brought with it extra funding, increased emphasis on
national reputation and a contagious excitement about a program that is
record numbers of students abroad for what the University describes as
transformational learning opportunities.
abroad is opening students’
minds to see how other people live and what different perspectives they
how to do business,” said Dr. Andres Gallo, an associate professor of
and one of the two directors of the flagship program. “For students to
be able to go and see these differences and appreciate these
opens their minds. You know there is not only one way of doing things in
world. There could be multiple ways to get to the same goal, but you
learn how to live with that and you have to learn how to collaborate
people from other cultures.”
According to Robinson, "Getting out and learning about the world you’re living in is tremendously valuable. You learn about yourself when you encounter other people and other cultures. And in doing so, you demonstrate that you’re adaptable, you’re flexible and you can learn how to cope with ambiguity or uncertainty because you’re going places where the language, the culture, everything is different.”
Spring 2011 graduate Robert Noble, a 34-year-old sailor who attended UNF on a Navy scholarship, chose to study construction in France his last semester via a study-abroad course offered by Business Construction Management. Led by James Sorce, instructor and adviser for Building Construction Management, and Dr. Maged Malek, chair and associate professor of the department, the course involved traveling to Paris and Nantes to visit partner institution Lycee Livett, various construction project sites and buildings of historical, cultural and architectural significance, with special emphasis placed on specific issues related to building in France.
“The course was designed to provide students with knowledge and skills in the management of construction projects, including strategic bidding and estimating, ethical conduct, project delivery methods, value engineering, asset allocation, designing and building, customer relations and communications — all in the context of the French market,” Sorce said.
Noble said he enrolled in the course because he loves to travel and learn about other cultures. “I always like to see how other people live their lives. It helps me to focus on larger issues and not just what is happening in Jacksonville or the USA,” he said. “America may be the best country on earth, but that doesn’t mean we do everything the best way it can be done.”
Van Morgan, 26, is a junior studying building construction management. “I decided to go on the study-abroad trip because I thought it would be a great experience and for the different perspective I would get from visiting the construction sites and schools in France,” he said. Morgan said he brought home a thorough understanding of the procedures, materials and management of large construction sites in France. “This experience has given me some great insight on how things operate in France.”
For BCM junior August Rodeck, 22, this was the second time he earned UNF credit overseas, having also traveled to Egypt during another short-term study-abroad course. Rodeck said he was struck by the lack of safety standards at construction sites in France — and also by the country’s impressive modern and historical construction sites and Renaissance and Baroque architecture they studied. “I will put these life experiences on my résumé because I am proud that I went,” Rodeck said. “I now have memories that I will never forget.”
According to Malek, this study-abroad course is an important pillar in the BCM curriculum and was one is a long series of study-abroad courses the department strives to undertake. “The purpose of these courses is to instill in our students a global perspective to help them in landing jobs around the globe, get familiar with different construction techniques adopted by different countries and enhance a general appreciation of a world’s culture,” Malek said. “This exposure broadens the students’ horizons and develops a more rounded education.”
Another spring study-abroad course took 10 health administration students to Shanghai and Xiamen in China to meet with health-care professionals and learn how the country’s health care differs from that in the United States.
Dr. Mei Zhao, associate professor in Public Health, took both undergraduate and graduate students to visit tourist and cultural sites like the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the World Expo and Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai, but more importantly, they visited both modern and traditional hospitals and the Shanghai Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau, which Zhao said is much like the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S.
“One of my friends happens to work there so we were able to visit their labs, tour different buildings and meet with health-care professionals there,” Zhao said.
UNF student Genevieve Taylor was impressed by the tour of the facility. “The officials spoke with us in great detail about their role at the bureau and that they are responsible for [dealing with] large-scale events such as H1N1, SARS and the recent Tsunami in Japan,” Taylor said.
Visiting the bureau provided the UNF students important insight knowledge about how health care is managed in China, but undergrad Maegen Pearce ironically experienced it firsthand when she awoke on their last morning in Shanghai with a painful, swollen, oozing eye and had to travel with the group to Xiamen before she could be seen by a doctor at a Xiamen hospital.
“As soon as we landed in Xiamen, a bus took Dr. Zhao and me to a local hospital so they could look at my eye. A physician and his nurse were at the hospital waiting to see me,” Pearce said. “A professor from Xiamen University met us at the hospital and the doctor who fixed my eye was actually Dr. Fang, the professor’s eye doctor. Dr. Fang not only met us there, but she was also very kind and paid for my doctor’s visit and both medications the doctor prescribed. In total, the bill came to about $12, which I could not believe. It was extremely cheap to receive the excellent care that I did.” Fortunately the injury, which had been caused by a small metal object that made its way into Pearce’s eye, was only temporary, allowing the grateful student to enjoy the rest of her experiences in China with her classmates.
“In Xiamen, we visited the center for health policy and health economics at our partner university, Xiamen University, where the head of the center gave our students a presentation about health-care reform in China,” Zhao said. “Their students also talked with our students and they studied and did activities together for three days.”
One experience UNF student Matthew Lundy wrote about in his journal was the importance of seeing the many and vastly different types of health care offered in China. “We first visited the Zhongshan Hospital, considered to be one of the top hospitals around. We were able to visit the different departments of the western medical hospital, such as the cardiology floor, to view the rooms and patients in them, and to watch an actual surgery in progress! We then walked over to the traditional medicine building to watch acupuncture, cupping and other types of traditional medicine in progress.”
It’s those types of meaningful firsthand experiences that are provided to the many students who choose to study abroad through various programs in all five colleges at UNF.
“It was proven by research studies that students who experience a global exposure are better prepared to address problems and difficulties in different situations,” Malek said.
It’s all about broadening students’ horizons, according to Robinson. “We’ve got seven bridges right here in Jacksonville, but there’s also the St. Charles Bridge, the London Bridge, the bridge over the River Seine by Notre Dame and all kinds of other bridges to see and learn about,” he said. “We just need to show students what’s out there to see and experience.”
The International Center markets study abroad through study-abroad fairs each semester, various events with Housing, information booths at orientation and parents’ days and by collaborating with other departments on campus. “We’ve been able to develop good ties and relationships with other offices on campus — advisers, departments, colleges, Financial Aid, the Registrar — to get the word out and streamline all the processes involved,” Robinson said. “Not to toot our own horn, but we’ve done a lot of promotion and made it work.”
Robinson, whose office also handles setting up and maintaining collaborative relationships with exchange universities around the world and bringing students from other countries to study at UNF, said the main reason UNF has been so successful in its international endeavors is because the administration supports such activities.
“We’ve got a very administratively supportive immediate supervisor in Dr. Mauricio Gonzalez [vice president for Student and International Affairs]. Much of the success we have had can be attributed to his commitment to internationalization. We also have a very supportive university structure,” Robinson said. “President [John] Delaney knows the value of international experiences, without a doubt, as evidenced by the fact that one of the identifiable TLOs [Transformational Learning Opportunities] is study abroad. I know from direct conversation and experiences that all the deans know that value as well. I’ve been with three of the five deans on international trips to develop academic programs. That alone shows the importance of these kinds of international activities.”
Robinson said studying abroad is not the opportunity of a lifetime, as it’s sometimes described. “It’s the first opportunity of a lifetime. Hopefully, if this is done right and our students have good international experiences, it will change them so that going abroad becomes a part of their life and having an international understanding is not only easy, but actually part of their makeup.”
A portion of this article has been reprinted from a Spring 2010 UNF Journal article written by Dave Roman. To read more about the International Business flagship program, click here.