This week we’ve been celebrating International Education Week (#IEW2019) by highlighting the different ways study abroad opens doors for students to learn about different cultures, languages, traditions, and become global citizens.
To wrap up this year’s International Education Week, we chatted with the new CEO of USAC, Dr. Alyssa Nota, about her experience in International Education and the opportunities that USAC provides to students across the nation.
The U.S. Department of State defines international education as the exchange of language, culture, ideas, and development of world leaders. How does USAC contribute to that mission?
USAC embodies all of those elements and more. We aim to give our students the most authentic exposure possible to the local language, culture, and ideas in all of our 50+ programs around the world. We purposely create programs located in nontraditional places, away from crowded tourist areas. For further immersion and to avoid the “American bubble,” our programs are located on host university campuses where students live and study alongside local students and faculty.
Students are immersed in the culture through program activities, field trips, language partners, homestays and academic courses which are offered in English or the local language.
Our program Resident Directors and staff are dedicated, experienced locals, and students learn from excellent local faculty – these defining characteristics of USAC programs show the deep quality of support that USAC students receive onsite.
What other programs don’t have is the USAC Prague team. The people that run the program were another highlight of the trip. They gave tours around the city, showing us the best beer gardens and overlooks along the way (The Letna beer garden is a must *pictured below). They had stories of the recent Velvet Revolution and history that they happily shared. The program itself was a huge part of what made the trip so great. Sarah, USAC Prague
USAC students are the world’s future leaders. By studying abroad they are being exposed to other ways of thinking and doing. They develop numerous practical, personal skills that make them a more rounded and worldly person with more knowledge, more understanding, more empathy, more openness, more of an ability to learn, accept and adapt to different ways of life and perspectives. Students learn that “different” doesn’t mean scary, inaccessible or unacceptable. Rather, we encourage our students to run toward what may be different (with the goal of learning about it!) rather than running away from it.
What is your experience in international education?
I studied abroad and had international experiences in high school, college, graduate school and beyond – which all greatly impacted my life, personally, academically, and professionally. They led me to become a professor, study abroad administrator overseas, and now leader of USAC — our outstanding, unique organization for which I have worked for the past 18 years. The extent of my international experience and the significant, positive ways it has altered my life, speaks to the powerful impact and influence of excellent teachers – from my own parents to exemplary teachers I have been fortunate to meet and work with on my educational path. I learned, just like our USAC students, the power of learning experiences both in and outside of the classroom, on a home campus and abroad. I’ve been fortunate to work with the USAC organization for a long time and with many outstanding colleagues who all share the passion and dedication to education and especially international education.
I would like to thank everyone involved in this program, as it really changed my life. I became a completely different person by learning stuff both in and out of the classroom. My Italian language skills improved incredibly, and I met people I will never forget. Upon arrival I did not feel very ready for a study alone in Europe, but this program changed my perspective and will stick with me forever. Juan Cueto, USAC Torino
How is your background in international education helping to shape the vision you see for USAC?
My experiences in and with international education really define who I am and who I have become. It is reflected in my long history with USAC abroad and why I am honored and excited to continue my career with USAC now at its home base in the US. Here at USAC we live and breathe study abroad and are committed to doing everything in our power to help all students have a valuable educational experience abroad. That is a basic underlying tenet of USAC since its founding over 35 years ago by Dr. Carmelo Urza.
As USAC’s new leader, I’m continuing that philosophy and looking for creative, new ways to expand on it. It’s very important to me to get the word out to students that ALL can have an incredible life experience abroad and that we are here to help them make that happen.
We do that by offering a wide variety of high quality, affordable programs, areas of study, lengths of academic sessions; we support students by offering over $1.5 million a year in scholarships and we will continue to expand on that; we offer internships and volunteer opportunities abroad – and much more – all with the aim of reaching as many students as possible, helping them achieve their international education goals.
The USAC South Africa program is easily the best thing I’ve done. My time in Stellenbosch provided me with valuable education, an immersive cultural experience, and lifelong friends. Danielle, USAC Stellenbosch
How can students/faculty/etc. honor international education all year long?
I encourage everyone to pursue international education opportunities at every chance they get. I believe strongly in education at every stage – true lifelong learning. In particular, University students are at an ideal moment in the trajectory of their life and education to study abroad: to earn credits for their major or minor, for other graduation requirements, and/or for their own personal growth and knowledge of the world.
From someone who has lived it and seen first-hand the amazing experience of thousands of USAC students, I say to all students: Get out there and do it! You will not regret it. There is so much out there to see, do and learn! It will undeniably change your life in positive ways. You never know until you take that first step.
I send the same message to faculty: keep your eyes and mind open as well. Faculty abroad experiences are great opportunities for learning, researching, exploring (not limited to one’s academic field). This exploration can only help to augment one’s ability and knowledge in the classroom and well beyond.
My major message to students and faculty – and for all to share: Study abroad IS possible. It IS doable. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is possible and available for any budget, any major, location, language, duration etc. There is an opportunity out there for you and we will help you to find it.