Broadening Horizons

Studying abroad helps prepare students for the global work force.

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A growing trend on university campuses is to find new ways to help students prepare for a globalized economy. Oklahoma is certainly no stranger to this trend. Global studies are an increasingly popular and expanding segment of college studies across the state.

At the University of Oklahoma, there is a strong commitment to developing students who are globally-minded. “This is a very exciting time to be at OU, as our university continues to be an innovator in the national educational landscape,” explains Jeffrey Blahnik.

It’s easy to see why. OU offers its students over 1,000 study abroad opportunities in more than 200 cities and 80 countries that are tailored to each participant’s degree plans. One of OU’s more interesting global studies opportunities comes through the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education, which is “working with Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe and the St. Monica Girls School in Gulu, Uganda, to develop a basic literacy/numeracy curriculum for girls and help the nuns become better educators,” Blahnik says.

Over at the University of Tulsa, they have been working on a strategy for globalization since 2009. “Our new Global Scholars program is a part of that,” explains Lara Foley, assistant provost for global education. “It’s similar to an honors program, but with a global focus.”

TU students are selected for the program from the time they arrive on campus. The curriculum focuses on global challenges in several key areas, such as population, resources, technology and governance. Students study a foreign language as well and study abroad for a semester.

Scholarships are available to help students pay their way, says Mary Benner, director of global engagement at Oklahoma City University. “A lot of students believe they can’t afford to study abroad,” Benner notes. “But there are many scholarships and government and non-government programs to help fund students abroad. It’s not just for wealthy students. There’s a lot of support for underrepresented groups.”

Studying abroad gives students a potent way to broaden their perspective. “In looking at how global challenges are addressed in other places,” Foley says, “it can give people a fresh way to look at local challenges wherever they live.” Benner says it helps students develop resilience, independence and self-confidence. “At the same time, it tends to help students develop humility,” she says. “They’re outside of their comfort zone. They begin to understand their own culture better by comparison (to others).”

It also broadens a student’s resume and prepares them for the global workforce, adds Benner. OCU alumna DeEtta Cravens is one of many examples. Cravens, who won both a Boren Scholarship to study Portuguese in Brazil and a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to study in Thailand, began her foreign service career at the end of June by starting her A-100 Foreign Service Officer Orientation Training in Arlington, Virginia.

For students who desire to study abroad, Benner suggests planning ahead. “Find out what the opportunities are,” she says. “Make sure you have the courses you need (to study abroad).” When students do that, their options only grow. As Brenner puts it, “The options are fairly limitless.”

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