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Students expand horizons, study abroad

By Jocelyn Green

“USP opened my eyes to issues I had never encountered,” says Charity Kinney, senior at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo. “My worldview has expanded; I have grown so much spiritually and intellectually. I’ve learned to ask the right questions and to truly rely on God for the answers.”

Kinney is not talking about a missions trip. This is college — the Uganda Studies Program, to be exact — where students earn 16 academic credits living and learning in Africa while their personal worlds are often turned upside down.

The Uganda Studies Program is one of a dozen off-campus “BestSemester” study programs offered by the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) to students of its member and affiliate campuses, including Assemblies of God schools Bethany University, Evangel University, North Central University, Northwest University, Southeastern University, Valley Forge Christian College and Vanguard University of Southern California.

The U.S. Government gave its official seal of approval to off-campus programs by naming 2006 the “Year of Study Abroad.” The Senate passed the resolution to promote global education for a globally literate citizenry, open doors for foreign language learning, and increase international trade.

All of these reasons resonate with Ken Bussema, CCCU vice president for student programs. “Interacting with differences challenges students to look at the shaping influences in their lives, and to examine what their core values are, and why,” he says. The CCCU programs strive to explore faith and worldview questions from a global perspective.

Study abroad is a growing trend. A 2006 report by the Institute of International Education shows 205,983 American students studied abroad — an increase of 8 percent over the prior year’s report. U.S. study in foreign countries has doubled in the past decade.

While the majority (56 percent) of those studying abroad do so for just one or two months, Robert Herron, vice president for academic affairs at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., believes that’s often insufficient.

“Visits to another culture of less than a semester are seldom effective in changing a person’s heart and mind,” Herron says. “It takes at least that long to come to appreciate and more fully understand another culture.”

That’s why Herron had no trouble sending off daughter Tiffany twice. (She studied at the China Studies Program and at The Scholar’s Semester in Oxford.) A member of the CCCU’s Student Academic Programs Commission, which conducts regular site visits and reviews of the programs, Herron has sent nearly 40 Southeastern students to study off-campus.

As with Herron’s daughter, Anthony Campau enjoyed his first BestSemester (the American Studies Program in Washington, D.C.) so much he participated in The Scholars’ Semester in Oxford.

“My two semesters in council programs have challenged me academically and spiritually more than I ever could have imagined,” Campau says. “Not only do I know much more about the world, but also about God and about myself.”

Between 1999 and 2006, 75 students have attended more than one BestSemester program during their college careers. Some have been to three.

Each program has its own flavor.

“In Uganda students deal with issues from which Americans tend to be insulated: poverty, corruption, injustice, AIDS,” says Director Mark Bartels. “We would like them to have a real and growing faith in Jesus that they maintain in spite of the harsh realities of life.”

The Latin American Studies Program (LASP) develops students’ Spanish-language skills. LASP students choose one of four concentrations of study for their semester in Costa Rica: Latin American studies, advanced language and literature, international business, or environmental science.

For some, the semester abroad is about focusing their scholarly aspirations.

“For the really clever ones, Oxford is a revelation,” says Elizabeth Baigent, senior tutor for BestSemester’s Programmes in Oxford. “They go back in command of their subject and with their ambitions set on world-class universities for graduate school.”

For Patty Hutton, a 2006 Evangel University graduate, studying at Oxford marked the first time she stepped into the unknown on that level. She believes learning to take risks like that has changed her life.

Southeastern University senior Christopher Morin also studied at Oxford and says the biggest impact he experienced came from a growing compassion for the homeless he encountered.

Evangel senior Sarah Pinho studied with the American Studies Program in 2005. And while she didn’t need a passport to get to Washington, D.C., adapting to the nation’s capital still caused her perspective to shift.

“D.C. really is a cross-cultural experience,” says ASP Director Jerry Herbert. “Stereotypes go out the window: about race, about the city, about those with different ideological convictions, about themselves.”

“I realized how many people were fighting for ‘causes’ that would not necessarily affect them, but that their sense of justice did not allow them to ignore,” Pinho says. Her internship in the city also helped Pinho narrow her career ambitions.

Still other opportunities for AG students include the Contemporary Music Center (Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.), Los Angeles Film Studies Center, Washington Journalism Center, Australia Studies Centre, Middle East Studies Program (Egypt), and the Russian Studies Program.

Herron recommends study abroad for almost any student. He has seen students become more open-minded, mature and aware of the humanity that transcends boundaries while enhancing lifelong learning as well.

“Experience in another culture forces you to read history, study language and monitor current events with more interest and insight,” Herron says. “Once you’ve seen the Great Wall of China, for example, you can never forget how old and venerable that civilization is. Once you’ve visited the Berlin Wall, you can never take for granted the freedom won in World War II, or the inherent conflict and consequences of competing political systems.”

Plus, Herron adds, “I always tell kids it will help their résumés.”

JOCELYN GREEN is a frequent contributor to Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

9/9/07 • 4870

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