Summer evokes images of the beach, camp fires and swimming pools. During these warm months, most of our students spend time at home with family, work part-time jobs and get re-energized for the fall semester.
But not all.
Within days of spring commencement, groups of Bloomsburg University students embarked on planes destined for study abroad programs in different parts of the world. Since then, more than 90 students have immersed themselves in the cultures and traditions of Africa, Chile, China, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, to name a few.
We have been fortunate to have several students share their global experiences through blogs on our website, such as Meghan Sullivan in the Dominican Republic and Ariana Winder in China.
And I recently had the opportunity to spend a week with Dr. Ekema Agbaw, professor of English, 22 BU students and five other faculty members in Cameroon, seeing the benefits of study abroad in person and signing an agreement to expand our strong international exchange program with the University of Buea.
Of all the places I’ve traveled for work or pleasure, this was my first trip to Cameroon and to Africa.
Our students were certainly having a wonderful and positive, life-influencing experience on their five weeks of study and travel in Africa. Half of the group was elementary education majors who were doing some of their teaching practicum in public and private schools. All of the students took two or three courses at the University of Buea and engaged in cultural exchanges with students and residents of the town of Buea on the slope of Mt. Cameroon.
I was able to go with the group on a fascinating hike in the Korup Rainforest (the oldest rainforest in the world). All of the students and professors made the hike including the crossing of a very long suspension bridge to get to the trailhead. A few days later, only 11 of us made the steep hike up to the first hut on the trail up Mt. Cameroon from the town of Buea. We were all guest of the Governor of the Southwest Region for the National Day Parade and at his private dinner that evening. I learned many things in my one week of academic and cultural exchange in Cameroon and presume our students learned so much more during in depth, five-week experience in that fascinating country.
I’m sure we will be hearing of some of their personal experiences and impressions on our Today page.
I’m a very strong supporter of international education. What used to center mainly on exposure to another culture has grown into an educational experience that prepares students for life in today’s global society. Both personally and professionally, I believe it is vital for as many students as possible to study in a country outside their homeland, whether it is U.S. students going abroad or international students coming here.
This approach to education directly supports our mission statement: Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania is an inclusive comprehensive public university that prepares students for personal and professional success in an increasingly complex global environment.
As our overall enrollment has grown at BU, so has our enrollment of international students, with, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia leading the way. Most of the Russian students — more than 100 in the past decade — enroll as part of a double-degree program with the Moscow Finance Academy. The affiliation began with 25 students in 2003.
Thanks to its popularity, the U.S. State Department now lists BU as one of the top five destinations for Russian students seeking bachelor’s degrees. The double-degree program, coordinated locally by Dr. Saleem Khan of the economics department, also offers our students the opportunity to study at the Finance University for a summer, a semester or a year.
It’s almost a cliché to say every student leaves his or her mark on a college campus. The variety of backgrounds, religions, ethnicities and, yes, nationalities our students bring to BU from a neighboring county or another country add a special perspective to classroom discussions, extracurricular activities and our campus in general. I believe learning about what we hold in common and understanding how we differ provides an invaluable perspective for a well-educated citizen.