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Vickroy: Students study abroad through community colleges

RnNimri student South Suburban College recently traveled AccrGhana.  |  Supplied Photo

Rna Nimri, a student at South Suburban College, recently traveled to Accra, Ghana. | Supplied Photo

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Updated: October 24, 2012 6:11AM



More than ever, young people are embracing the notion of a global economy by packing a suitcase and seeing things for themselves.

For a long time, it seemed only the offspring of the rich or super-religious traveled abroad, but demand from students across all socioeconomic groups has pushed open the doors of opportunity. As a result, studying abroad is increasingly becoming a viable, and often less expensive, option for those attending community colleges.

Joliet resident Justin Ngai, 19, studied macroeconomics in Japan this spring.

Rna Nimri, 20, of Hazel Crest, recently took a class in social service delivery systems in Ghana.

Ngai and Nimri not only reflect a growing interest in studying abroad, they are proof that such an experience does not have to wait until junior year at a four-year university, as is traditional.

More going abroad

According to the U.S. Travel Association, some 270,000 young adults studied abroad in 2009-10, up from 30,000 in 1989-90.

In addition to receiving academic credit and staying on target for graduation, the traveling students are trying different foods, learning about exchange rates and seeing cultural differences and traditions firsthand. Many also return home bitten by the travel bug.

Ngai is a culinary arts student at Joliet Junior College. He enjoyed the Japan experience so much that he’s already planning a second trip.

“I’m Chinese,” Ngai, 19, said. “I’ve always wanted to travel to Asia.”

In addition to sampling much of the cuisine, including miso soup, udon noodles and a variety of seafood, he learned about Japanese culture.

“I didn’t know that there is no tipping in Japanese restaurants. You just pay your bill and you’re done,” he said. “I also didn’t know that a driver’s license costs about $2,000 there.”

During his three-week stint in Matsuyama, he studied macroeconomics, taught by a JJC faculty member who traveled with the group. He also visited temples and shrines.

South Suburban College in Hazel Crest, and Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills also offer study-abroad programs, as does Governors State University in University Park.

Credit applies

Berta Arias, international education coordinator at JJC, said next year the college will celebrate 25 years of involvement in international education, the longest time of all community colleges in Illinois.

JJC offers eight programs, some a semester long, others a few weeks in the summer. The school works closely with Lake County College in sharing openings for students as well as faculty.

When Ngai went to Japan, he was accompanied by 25 other travelers, most of them JJC students, but Arias said even people not interested in class credit can participate. They must live in the district.

“We’d like to see more older people, moms, dads and retirees sign up for the program simply because they want to learn,” she said. “They can audit the class (pass-fail rather than get a letter grade).”

Nimri, an engineering major at South Suburban College in Hazel Crest, said life in Accra, Ghana, is very different from life in Chicago’s south suburbs.

For one, people are expected to openly greet each other on the street in the western African country.

“If you did that here, people would think you were awkward,” she said.

As a future engineer, she said she was particularly interested in seeing the architecture in Ghana and was fortunate to take side trips to many different areas.

Nimri, who is Jordanian, said the trip was her second time going abroad. She’s also been to Italy.

“I would recommend study abroad,” she said. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”

At South Suburban, students apply for one of several study-abroad scholarships. The students chosen to participate travel to either Africa, China, Australia or Costa Rica, said Al Jackson, who handles international studies there.

The scholarship, funded by the school’s foundation, pays for the flight and the cost of classes, Jackson said.

Faculty members also can apply to teach abroad. Those who are selected to participate are given a stipend toward their flight. This year, an SSC faculty member is traveling to Finland. In the spirit of exchange, a professor from Finland will travel and teach here.

Working together

Joliet, Moraine Valley and South Suburban are members of the Illinois Consortium for International Studies and Programs, which was developed in 1986 to give transfer students some of the same opportunities for travel study enjoyed by their counterparts at four-year universities, while keeping them on schedule for graduation. Beth Parks is its executive chairwoman.

The consortium, made up of 34 two-year institutions in Illinois, has semester programs in England, Ireland, Austria and Spain, as well as summer programs in Costa Rica. It’s working on developing programs in China and France.

The schools in the consortium work to ensure credit transferability of courses. About 2,000 Illinois students participate in some kind of study-abroad program organized or supported by the consortium.

Governors State University, a two-year upper-level institution, helps students navigate study-abroad programs through third-party organizations, said Jonathan Lee, director of international studies.

This past year, GSU sent a group of students to Ukraine and another to China. The trips, so far, have been short term and are generally specific to a major. For example, students from the college of business and public administration traveled to China for 10 days in May.

Lee said the school is hoping to expand the program in anticipation of its transition to a four-year university in 2014.

“We do know there is a growing demand for these kinds of opportunities,” Lee said.



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