SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Wofford College seniors Nneka Mogbo and Leila Shearer and junior Conner Chestnut are going places and doing things, and they intend to keep on going and doing.
Mogbo, who is from Douglasville, Georgia, has helped host an all-female DJ academy in Tunisia to highlight Stambeli, a traditional Tunisian music form. In Tanzania, she planned and executed a three-day conference on gender-based violence. Today, while in the United Arab Emirates, she is studying the historical context of Arabic music and women in leadership roles in Middle Eastern and North African areas.
Shearer, a psychology and Spanish major with a minor in sociology and anthropology from Duluth, Georgia, studied biodiversity and sustainability in Costa Rica and had an immersive experience in Alicante, Spain, working with special needs children and adults.
Chestnut, an intercultural studies major with a minor in Arabic and a concentration in Middle Eastern and North African Studies from Aynor, S.C., is spending this academic year studying in Amman, Jordan, to hone his Arabic skills and to immerse himself in the life and culture of the region.
These experiences aren’t surprising considering Wofford’s consistent reputation as one of the top colleges in the country for study abroad programs. The annual Open Doors Report, released this week by the Institute of International Education, ranks Wofford 8th among the top 40 baccalaureate institutions for the percentage of students who study abroad for academic credit. Wofford also is ranked 11th in the total number of students studying abroad, with a total of 418 participating in 2017-18, and 10th for short-term duration study abroad, with 297 students participating in Interim or summer programs.
“Wofford College’s mission is to provide superior liberal arts education that prepares students for extraordinary and positive contributions to a global society. It’s why we emphasize study abroad,” says Dr. Mike Sosulski, Wofford’s provost. “We prepare students to become leaders in the world, to have a global reach in their thinking and problem solving, and to make a difference. Providing students with opportunities to learn beyond the classroom is essential. Studying abroad gives them culturally immersive experiences that broaden their perspectives and their understanding of themselves in a globally connected world.”
Amy Lancaster, dean of international programs, adds, “We are committed to providing transformational opportunities that challenge our students in ways that will serve them throughout their careers and lives after Wofford. Our approach to education abroad is one that emphasizes access. We recognize that not all students join our community planning to study abroad, so we’ve made it our mission to eliminate barriers – whether they be perceived or real – to doing so. Each year, the college affirms its commitment to education abroad by allowing all need- and merit-based scholarships to travel with students for a semester abroad.
“Our faculty encourage their advisees to consider studying abroad and allow coursework taken overseas to fulfill degree requirements,” Lancaster continues. “Through our tailored advising, intentional pre-departure programming and supportive faculty, students are able to identify programs that expand upon the Wofford curriculum and maintain progress toward their degrees.”
Mogbo, whose spring semester this year included travel-study in Italy as well as Tunisia, says, “As an intercultural studies major with minors in business, Arabic and French, I selected my study-abroad locations to encompass both my major and minors. Most importantly, I wanted to develop my language proficiency in Arabic and French, and I wanted my year abroad in the UAE to reflect what I want to do in the future – serve international communities as an international attorney focused on building a social enterprise that mixes music, business and law to implement sustainable development practices in MENA and West African countries.”
“Study abroad made me a ‘fearless learner,’” she adds. “It is an experience that along with teaching you about other countries, cultures and peoples, teaches you about yourself. I learned more about my habits, life goals and personality while studying abroad.”
Shearer’s Interim experience in Costa Rica while she was a sophomore sparked the “travel bug” in her. “We traveled throughout the small country from San Jose to the rainforest to the cloud forest, then finally to the coast. After that experience, I was sure I wanted to study abroad for a semester to fully immerse myself in the culture of a foreign country.”
Shearer chose Alicante, Spain, where her host homestay family “ended up treating me as their own ‘hija’ – daughter,” she says. There, she volunteered with a program for special needs children and adults, helping with vocational skills classes. “Since I plan to go into a career working with children with special needs, I was able to get real job experience using my language skills and observe the differences between services in Spain and the U.S.,” she says.
“Study abroad opened my mind to the differences between cultures, but also the cohesiveness of people in general,” Shearer says.
Chestnut says studying abroad puts his classroom experiences into important context.
“The greatest impact of my study abroad experience has been the opportunity to understand the world in a larger and more correct context. Without direct experience in a region, it’s hard to really see the true picture. After living here, and having more time to live here, I feel as if the greatest takeaway is a real understanding of what separates us and an appreciation for all the things that people in different countries all have in common. It's more experience, more wisdom, in the end.
“My leading academic endeavor is increasing my fluency in Arabic through community participation and formal study,” Chestnut continues. “This is the most important goal to me as language is the biggest obstacle to intercultural communication. I’m also concerned with studies on the future of the Middle East and what threats to stability are creating issues. Living in the Middle East, these issues are very apparent in daily life.”