Studying Abroad Gives Students Global Edge, Cultural Exposure
Apr. 2, 2013
PhD candidate Toni Loftin studied in Cuba as part of a Cuban literature class. In this photo, she is standing in front of the Ministry of the Interior building in Havana’s La Plaza de La Revolución.
Toni Loftin, a PhD candidate in arts and humanities at UT Dallas, had always been curious about Cuba. Growing up in the 1980s Cold War era, she was fascinated with U.S. policy and Cuban resistance.
So when Dr. Charles Hatfield organized a faculty-led trip to Cuba last summer, she was quick to sign up for the first-hand experience. The Cuban literature class was the first UT Dallas study trip to Cuba.
“It’s the furthest 90 miles you’ll travel,” Loftin said of the trip to the island from the Florida coast. “It’s a completely different world than anyplace else I’ve traveled. What struck me is the lack of apparent consumerism. You still see a lot of American cars from the 1950s.”
Loftin is among 431 UT Dallas students who studied abroad last year. That’s a 10-fold increase in student participation since 2005, says Dr. Rodolfo Hernandez, director of the Office of International Education. His staff sets up the processes and provides guidance for students who opt to study overseas in such countries as China, France, Australia and Costa Rica.
UT Dallas provides several ways for students to study overseas: traditional study abroad programs, internships in other countries, exchange programs or faculty-led international experiences.
“Faculty at UT Dallas have colleagues in their disciplines teaching at universities all over the world and can help students find great schools in their field of study or major,” Hernandez said.
Studying abroad can be a life-changing experience, Hernandez said.
“When students pursue the extra mile to interact with the reality of another community, they challenge themselves to think, speak and behave in different ways, and they give international relationships a boost,” Hernandez said.
Political science senior Andrew Previc has taken three study abroad trips. Here, he practices calligraphy in Taiwan.
For Andrew Previc, a political science senior graduating in May, three overseas study experiences have immersed him in foreign languages and given him a deeper understanding of human rights issues that may shape his career goals. His travel was funded through the McDermott Scholar Program.
He began in summer 2010 with a trip to Buenos Aires, where he honed the Spanish he studied in high school.
“The Argentine society is rich and diverse in food, culture and peoples. At the same time, however, the country has had a somewhat darker past with human rights violations in the 1980s and the economic difficulties of the past two decades,” Previc said. “I was able to interview people who had lived under the repression of dictatorship. It was a great opportunity to study the human impact of political events.”
Last summer, Previc took an intensive language program in Shanghai with the Alliance for Global Education. There, he greatly improved his language skills and learned more about the financial and political climates of China.
“It opened my eyes to everything,” Previc said. “What made me fall in love with China was the ethnic and cultural diversity it contained.”
He discovered a passion in learning about the 20 million Muslims who have been in China for generations. While visiting Yi Wu, a large trade center southeast of Shanghai, he met Muslims who could track their ancestors for 600 years. He also saw millions of people living in poverty outside Shanghai.
“When such scraping poverty hits you, you have to really question the privileges you have. My emotional experience was shame. I didn’t know how to respond. I was very disturbed,” Previc said.
His residential director, who had a PhD in cultural anthropology from Yale University, helped him process his feelings and suggested that he put that new-found knowledge to use.
“She encouraged me to use my privilege to bring knowledge and dignity and public concern to their plight,” Previc said, adding that he now hopes to pursue international business to help promote job growth. A trip to Taiwan this winter further broadened his view.
By studying abroad, students gain an enhanced respect, tolerance and solidarity with others as they learn to embrace new ways of thinking, Hernandez said. And that goes both ways. UT Dallas students can have a positive impact on people they meet whose views of the U.S. might come from popular culture.
“They are ambassadors for UT Dallas, with all the privileges and responsibilities that go with it,” Hernandez said.
Previc has been able to show hospitality to visiting professors at the Confucius Institute at UT Dallas. A few days before their semester started, Previc took them to area museums and restaurants – and also to his parents’ home in San Antonio for Thanksgiving – to give them a taste of life in Texas.
“In China, hospitality is very, very important,” Previc said.
Loftin hopes to return to Cuba one day because she feels it would help further her goals of teaching Latin American history at the university level.
“I think there’s a lot for me there as a scholar and for Americans in general. Things are changing in Cuba,” she said. “It is always useful to experience another way of life and to be exposed to how other people do things. There isn’t just one right way to go about things.”
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