Steps Magazine | Summer 2016,
15:13 PM

Preparing Leaders for Today’s Global World

By Katie Chappell

In today’s global world, the cultural exposure and independence developed from studying in another country sets a student ahead of their peers. 

Studying abroad is one of the most personally enriching and academically rewarding experiences an individual can have. The close contact with another culture, place and language teaches a student independence, acceptance and appreciation for diverse perspectives and lifestyles. Students are challenged to recognize and dismiss stereotypes they may have previously held.

All students at Cal State San Marcos have the opportunity to study in another country, whether for a summer, one semester or the whole academic year. Over 200 students participate in study-abroad programs each year at CSUSM, but almost any student can earn valuable credit toward their degree while exploring and assimilating to another culture at dozens of destinations around the world.

For CSUSM students who study abroad, the experience has been life- changing. From Ghana to Japan to Belgium to Ecuador, the experiences that students gain from their travel don’t just enrich their educational career; they also influence their future plans and help prepare them to be tomorrow’s global leaders.

Despite a wide variety of locations and settings, students who study abroad almost universally look back on their travels as some of the best moments of their lives. And after they return to the States, they find a home at the CSUSM Office of Global Education, connecting with other students who’ve also had transformative experiences around the world.

“It’s such an eye-opening experience,” said Tiffany Gabbard, study abroad coordinator. “I really hope all of our students get to experience what it’s like to see another culture and way of life.”

I really hope all of our students get to experience what it's like to see another culture and way of life.
Tiffany Gabbard

Tony Carota | Literature & Writing Studies, '16

Tony knew he wanted study abroad years before getting to CSUSM. His family lived in Tokyo for several years when he was growing up and he was excited to live in the country again as an adult. But he was surprised to find himself experiencing initial culture shock as he settled into his program in Osaka. While some things were familiar, he was caught off guard by the differences he found in a new city and the challenges he faced living on his own for the first time without his family.

“I really grew in confidence and independence when I was studying abroad,” said Tony. “I learned to appreciate solitude and I developed a love for the culture of Japan. Though there were some difficult parts of the experience, the payoff was well worth it.”

Tony studied for a full academic year at Kansai Gaidai University, taking classes in Japanese film, public speaking and Buddhism. In addition to providing a unique academic experience, his time in Japan provided a trial run of what life could be like for him there in the future. He hopes to return to Japan to teach English as a Second Language in Kyoto next year.

Camille Mccardle-Hankin, Psychology, '18

More than just teaching Camille about another culture or language, her study abroad experience taught her about herself. In both Ecuador and Spain, she was forced to grapple with what was important to her and where she saw her place in the world as she faced the joys and challenges of living in a different country.

Camille studied for a year abroad, spending one semester studying anthropology in Quito, Ecuador, in a Spanish-speaking program and another semester studying the Spanish language in Grenada, Spain. She was surprised by how different her two experiences were. The language was the same but the culture, environment and history were vastly different.

“Studying abroad showed me new shades of who I am, and helped clarify who I want to become,” said Camille. “It took me out of everything that felt comfortable and familiar and helped me realize what is truly important to me.” 

Michael Sandoval, History, '16

After taking courses in African and Middle Eastern history in his studies at CSUSM, Michael knew he wanted to travel to some of the places he had read about to experience the culture, music and history firsthand. He spent a full academic year studying at the University of Ghana Legon. In his program there, he took courses in history and African music.

As he worked through the challenges of being away from his family and friends, he began to appreciate the culture, particularly the friendliness and openness of

the Ghanaian people. Whether he was playing simple table games with a neighbor who stopped by, creating music with friends or strangers or just chatting with his fellow students, when he talks about his time there, it’s clear that Michael left his heart in Ghana.

“Being in Ghana was a really humbling experience for me,” he said. ”We didn’t have some of the technological conveniences of the U.S., like a hot shower or fast food, but the simplicity of human connection became so precious.” 

Cassandra Steppat, Communication, '17

Cassandra Steppat had never even set foot on an airplane until August 2015 when she left to study abroad at Vesalius College in Belgium. As a former foster youth and ACE Scholar, she received scholarship funding to help make her dream a reality. While Cassandra primarily chose Belgium because its central location in western Europe would make it easy to travel and see the world, she had little expectations about what she would encounter when she arrived.

Cassandra soon learned that the real advantage to studying in Belgium was the diversity of culture that comes together in such a large international hub of commerce and politics. Living in the melting pot of Europe exposed her not just to Belgian students, but also to students from Germany, the Netherlands, France and the Congo.

“Studying abroad really helped me to confirm my interests in cross-cultural communication,” shared Steppat. “There is also a large immigrant population in Brussels and I had the opportunity to participate in some refugee relief, which made me excited to be involved in human rights activism in the future.”