Despite being nestled away in rural western North Carolina, Appalachian State still boasts a variety of study abroad programs.
“In a lot of ways it doesn’t seem to make sense; we’re not even located near an international airport,” Meredith Church Pipes, the International Programs Coordinator for the Walker College of Business, said. “But part of [the reason] is the vision of the faculty and staff that understands the value and importance of international engagement.”
The university’s faculty plays an essential role in the study abroad program, leading a variety of excursions throughout the year related to their respective departments.
Christopher Lytle, director of education abroad, said he believes Appalachian’s isolated location means people go out of their way to create opportunities for students to study abroad.
This outlet for exploring the world gives students a unique opportunity to learn new perspectives and can lead to tremendous personal growth.
“Students usually come back with a greater sense of independence, and whether a student is going abroad for a week or a year, they’re being exposed to different cultures, ways of thinking [and] ways of interpreting the world,” Lytle said.
Pipes said the Walker College of Business mandates a global issues credit which encourages students to study abroad to fulfill it.
Heather Jo Mashburn, assistant director of ACT, said students are also encouraged to complete service abroad through their International Alternative Service Program.
“We seek out meaningful long-term relationships with community partners and hope that we can send students several years in a row to iASE sites,” Mashburn said. “While we may not be close in proximity, each community partnership is intentionally fostered, so that the ASE groups we send each year grow to know and effectively serve alongside our international community partners.”
However there is uncertainty on the horizon for the international studies program, with the Trump Administration’s pledge to revive its travel ban against seven predominantly Muslim countries raising questions about the future of study abroad programs at American universities.
“There is not enough information, so there is no way of knowing at the moment,” Maria Anastasiou, executive director for the Office of International Education and Development, said. “The numbers have not gone down, but they were taken before the election. There is a lot of uncertainty, but we’re hoping it won’t have an effect.”
Lytle said that we will have to wait to see how America’s political climate affects desires for students to study abroad.
“Right now our numbers are fairly steady, and I would argue that with everything that’s happening, it’s an important time for students to go abroad and for international students to come here to open that dialogue and continue understanding each other,” he said.
Lytle said that now more than ever it’s critical to foster dialogue between students from different parts of the world.
“The skills that you learn, of cultural communication and problem solving in different environments, and the independence that students gain from being abroad is very important,” Pipes said. “When you start to develop a sense of empathy for people who are different than yourself, the stereotypes are hard to keep up, and you realize that people are just people.”
Story by: Michael Lyday, News Reporter