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U.Va. Celebrates International Education Week, Reflects on Gains Made in Education Abroad

November 12, 2010 — The University of Virginia is celebrating International Education Week this week with a mix of scholarly, cultural and education abroad events that showcase the global reach the University has attained since making international activities a priority in its "2020" plan of nine years ago.

International Education Week, a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education, promotes programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn and exchange experiences in the United States.

Monday, the University is hosting a scholarly seminar, "Realizing the Global University: Aspirations and Transformations," with panelists from U.S. and world universities considering the future of the global university in the face of the political, economic and cultural shifts of the 21st century.

U.Va.'s International Studies Office will host three programs Tuesday. Students are invited to hear about education abroad experiences in Jordan and Guyana at 11 a.m. in Minor Hall, room 216. That evening there are two other events; a resume writing workshop  and an international career panel featuring speakers from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Peace Corps and  a former U.S ambassador to Venezuela.

Education abroad adviser Jennifer Wiley said the resume workshop aims to help students incorporate their international experiences into work experience.

"The greatest obstacle most students face is they don't often view their study abroad experiences, particularly those experiences outside of the classroom, as career preparation and skill development opportunities," Wiley said. "When they are able to reflect on what they really learned from the experience, students find they acquired a deeper knowledge of the host culture and developed skills in cross-cultural communication that are applicable in the global workplace."

On Tuesday evening, Theatre Bacchus, a theater group from Charlottesville's sister city, Besançon, France, will perform "La Comedie du Langage" at 8 p.m. in Old Cabell Hall Auditorium.

Wednesday is "Wear an International T-shirt Day." Thursday, students can learn about education abroad opportunities in the Francophone world at La Maison Française and take in a movie at the Lorna Sundberg International Center, which will screen "Afghan Star".

Marina Markot, the associate director for education abroad, said the 2020 plan gave an enormous boost to study abroad.

"At the time when the 2020 Commission was preparing the report, 16 percent of U.Va. undergraduates studied abroad. In the last academic year, that number was 35 percent," she said.

Markot said thus far, 2007-08 had the highest percentage of education abroad numbers, with 43 percent participation among undergraduates.

"After the economic crisis hit in the fall of 2008, the numbers dropped," she said. "ISO is looking for creative ways to continue the upward trend."

The number of education abroad opportunities for students at the University has also increased since the issuance of the 2020 plan.

•    Prior to 2001, U.Va. had six semester and 13 summer programs. Between 2001 and 2010, the University developed an additional 18 semester opportunities and 30 summer programs. 
•    The number of student exchange agreements rose from 12 to more than 60. (Exchanges provide the highest degree of immersion into a foreign academic culture for U.Va. students, bring additional diversity to the student body on Grounds and present a very affordable option for in-state students.)
•    In 2005, January-Term courses were introduced, offering two programs abroad. There are now nine J-term study-abroad programs.
•    In 2002, U.Va. programs took students to 15 different countries. In 2010, students traveled to 40 countries. Additional destinations are available through the portfolio of approved programs offered by other institutions. Although Western Europe still leads in terms of student participation, the last 10 years brought notable growth in students going to Asia (China in particular) and Central and South America.

The University is home to 2,704 international students from 130 countries. Their first stop is the International Studies Office and a meeting with Richard Tanson, senior international student and scholar adviser.

"Imagine coming from another country. The shift in orientation is significant," he said. In addition to helping international students and scholars maintain their legal status while at the University, Tanson runs arrival orientations. "They are jet-lagged. The density of the information given at once is a challenge to absorb," he said.

He overcomes this by trying to keep things entertaining. "Our orientations are not boring," he said. "It's Borscht Belt humor."

Another resource that is available to new international students is the Mentoring and International Exchange. Through MIX, U.Va. students assist and welcome incoming international undergraduate students. The program creates opportunities for international and American students to interact on a personal level and develop greater global and cultural awareness.

"It's another way international students can become better acclimated to life away from home," Tanson said.

— By Jane Kelly

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