Nursing in Nicaragua. Marketing in Athens. Accounting in Dubai. And learning to live as a global citizen in China, France, Vietnam, and Namibia.
Robert Morris University’s study abroad programs offer students an expansive range of opportunities to travel, live, and learn overseas. Experiencing other countries firsthand allows students to see their own culture with fresh eyes. It also helps them to become people who can work and live with confidence born of successful day-to-day interactions in the wider world.
A global perspective is an integral part of a complete RMU education, and the university strives to ensure all students have the chance to learn through travel. Exchange agreements with a growing number of overseas universities lock in RMU tuition costs for students spending a semester or year abroad. Faculty-guided “short tours” – in which students spend spring semester studying a country in class, then go there with their professor for a few weeks in the summer – make travel and study abroad possible for those unable to take more time away from core classes and jobs. Short tours include faculty-led trips by nursing students to China and Nicaragua, film students to Gambia and hospitality students to Germany, France and Switzerland.
Those initiatives are paying off: A record 158 RMU students participated in study abroad programs in the 2008-09 academic year, almost double the number who went overseas the prior year.
Junior media arts major Channing Frampton was concerned a semester abroad would make it hard for him to complete his degree on time. Instead, he opted for a faculty-guided three-week short tour of Finland last June. Students visited the University of Tampere, attended an international film festival, and climbed to the top of the country’s northernmost weather station. Frampton, an aspiring TV weatherman who gives the forecasts for RMU-TV, even had an opportunity to deliver a trial forecast at the nation’s largest commercial TV station, in Helsinki. “We got to talk to broadcast professionals, and learn about technology in Finland, which in many ways is a few years ahead of us here in the States,” says Frampton, of New Bethlehem, Pa. “It was an amazing opportunity that I think will help in my future.”
International experience as a career plus is an idea that’s gaining credence. The Committee for Economic Development, a non-partisan advocacy group comprised of corporate executives and university leaders, estimates that U.S. corporations lose $2 billion a year because of inadequate understanding of global markets. “Employers are increasingly looking for workers with international expertise and language skills because they know it makes their organizations far more competitive in the workplace,” says RMU President Gregory Dell’Omo, Ph.D.
The competitive role that Dubai is playing among international financial districts is what appealed to accounting major Kevin Senko ‘09. The Scott Township native spent a semester last spring at the American University of Dubai, in the heart of the Persian Gulf. He roomed with a classmate from Nigeria and juggled a rigorous schedule of classes, including international finance, portfolio management, and history of the Middle East. “The textbooks were American, but the issues we studied came from the culture around us: currency exchange issues in a port city, discussions about pegging the value of oil to the U.S. dollar.”
“I want our students to feel comfortable living on the earth as global citizens,” says Jim Vincent, a longtime English literature professor who pioneered RMU’s exchange program with the University of Limerick and has led student trips to Ireland for the past three years. “We’re part of Pittsburgh’s attempt to become a stronger player in international business and commerce. You cannot do that with students who only know Allegheny and Beaver counties.”
Adventuresome Audrey Petrus couldn’t decide between Japan, Spain or London. So the actuarial science major opted for the Semester At Sea program last year, visiting 12 countries including Spain, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Vietnam, China and Japan – with the home stretch sailing through the Panama Canal. Her classes in global studies and physics were conducted on days when the ship was at sea, with organized and independent trips rounding out the education while in port. Petrus, of Zelienople, recalled exploring the bazaars of Morocco, learning to mediate in Thailand, and making friends everywhere she went. “You really get to see the world as a whole,” she says. “It’s like being a child again. You have to learn how to communicate, how to get around, even how to eat. You can sit down and have dinner with someone in Namibia, and see how it’s different from sitting down and having dinner with someone in India, and how that’s different from sitting down and having dinner with someone in Japan. And how it’s kind of the same.”
Breaking bread in another language was a revelation for Michael Church. The senior accounting and marketing major cherishes the moment he was first able to order a pastry in Greece. “It made me feel a great sense of independence to be able to go out and express myself and be understood,” the Wisconsin native says. Church spent four weeks studying public relations at the American College of Thessalonki with 35 other American students before setting out on his own for Estonia. The loneliness of solo travel gripped him for much of the first day, but it wore off as he navigated his way around Tallinn, tracking down the location of a cobbled medieval passageway he’d seen photos of in books. “It was the coolest thing,” Church says. “ ‘I’m here. I’m in another country. I’m on my own, and I’m finding my way.’ ”
Social sciences senior Krystal McCoy spent three weeks in Israel, where students camped with Bedouins near the ancient ruins of Masada, explored the ancient streets and alleys of Jerusalem, and swam in a natural spring alongside some local women wearing bikinis and others wearing burkas. McCoy says she anticipated some hostility towards their group of American Christians. She found just the opposite. “The most surprising thing for me was how warm and welcoming people were, everywhere we went,” says McCoy, of Moon Township. “In Nazareth, which is 90 percent Islamic, shopkeepers rushed to offer us cold drinks, and to talk with us about their customs, their religion.”
Those kinds of human interactions are key to the education of students traveling abroad, according to Vincent. “College is a time of personal growth as much as learning accounting principles or comparative literature. Seeing the world it the best way to encourage cultural diversity, and the best way to get people on the path of self-discovery.”
Sneak peek of an RMU student documentary about two Italian students who came here after their university was hit by an earthquake.