Guaranteeing Global Opportunities

Guest blogger Susquehanna University Provost Carl Moses writes about the school’s award-winning Global Opportunities program:

As I child, I was fortunate enough to have opportunities to travel with my family and explore different parts of the United States. I marveled at the expanse of the Grand Canyon, the bustle of New York City, the quaintness of a New England fishing village, the peacefulness of an ocean sunrise. Those experiences, contrasting in many ways with my southern rural surroundings, opened my eyes and gave me an appreciation of the diversity of the American culture and its people, as well as ways we connect with each other across that diversity.

As a parent, I tried to offer my own children similar opportunities, and I must say their experiences have transformed them. My daughters began traveling internationally as high school students and while in college, they found the confidence to travel abroad to explore their own academic interests. In addition to the knowledge they gained, they learned how to navigate unfamiliar situations and live on their own. Matters as seemingly simple as using public transportation, properly tipping a restaurant server, shopping for necessities, or, for one of my daughters, receiving emergency room treatment, become challenges in the context of a different culture. Each one mastered adds a boost to confidence.

At Susquehanna University, we’re extremely proud that our Global Opportunities (GO) program has earned us this year’s Andrew Heiskell Award for Internationalizing the Campus. It’s one of the most significant awards in international education, and a tribute to how far we have come with our GO program in just a few short years.

Before we launched the GO program in 2009, only 30 percent of our students took advantage of off-campus study experiences before graduation. Now we guarantee that all of them will spend at least two weeks off campus immersed in a culture that is different from their own. 

In a few months, we will graduate the pioneering class of students who have traveled the world under this new curriculum. And although statistics show that previous Susquehanna graduating classes have been very well-prepared for the workforce and postgraduate education, we know that the Class of 2013 is more open-minded, more confident and more culturally competent than their predecessors. We believe that the skills they have acquired are essential for succeeding in today’s diverse and interconnected world.

Accessibility is the hallmark of our program. From the beginning, our goal was to remove obstacles that might prevent students from gaining the benefits of these cross-cultural experiences. At Susquehanna, every student—regardless of financial circumstances, grade point average, academic major or disability—is guaranteed study-away opportunities.

Our faculty members have collaborated to develop programs that are geographically and academically diverse. Many are interdisciplinary in nature and some are service-oriented. We currently offer more than 100 GO options. To date, students have examined the biology and culture of Australia, experienced chamber music residencies in Japan, assisted with Hurricane Katrina cleanup in New Orleans and explored the culture of the Navajo Nation in the American West. They have studied international business in the Czech Republic and Sherpa life in Nepal.

We provide opportunities that span a full semester (GO Long) and some that are two or more weeks in length (GO Short). When students express an interest in a particular location or area of study, they can design their own off-campus experience through our GO Your Own Way option, which is especially well suited to an international internship.

In all cases, we ensure that the travel fits into students’ academic tracks, allowing them to graduate in four years. We also work to keep the cost affordable and offer financial aid to qualifying students.

It’s been exciting to see the transformation in students when they return from their GO experiences. Parents see the transformation, too. Students bring back countless photos and stories. They forge friendships with people who were once strangers, and in many cases, gain new insights into what their own career path might be. Their journeys of profound discovery and personal growth are documented through critical reflections with a faculty member upon return to Selinsgrove, and this reflection course is required of all students.

We are most grateful for the Heiskell Award because it validates our philosophy at Susquehanna University. We are confident that GO is doing what it is intended to do—broadening students’ horizons on the one hand, while making the world a bit smaller on the other. Because of it, we believe that our students will be citizen-leaders wherever their lives take them, and that they will live out the university’s mission by leading lives of achievement, leadership and service.

Carl Moses is Provost of Susquehanna University.