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Wofford students wander the globe for education

By Felicia Kitzmiller
felicia.kitzmiller@shj.com
Spartanburg Herald Journal
Published: Saturday, November 10, 2012 


In the past five years, 1,700 Wofford students have studied in 70 countries on seven continents.

While the students are out globe-trotting, Ana Maria Wiseman is at the Spartanburg campus, where she works in an office with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves laden with national reports and research, course descriptions and tour books. It is her responsibility to make sure each student is safe, learning and enjoying his or her adventure.

She makes occasional excursions herself; scouting new locations for students to study and reviewing programs offered by national corporate partners, but she spends most of her time at a desk stacked with paperwork.

The job sounds a lot more glamorous than it is, Wiseman said.

When students come back, she always makes an effort to attend wrap-up meetings where faculty and staff ask the students about their experience. Hearing the effect the trip had on their lives reinvigorates Wiseman's passion.

“It's the peace imperative,” Wiseman said. “If our country is going to be having diplomatic relations, our students need to be doing this. They need to learn about other people and other ways of living. You don't necessarily need to adopt those different values, but you need to recognize them.”

Though she has lived more than 30 years in Spartanburg, Wiseman considers herself a “global nomad.” She was born in Latin America. She grew up there and in Belgium with a Dutch family.

Wiseman said “the need to understand others” motivates her. “The usefulness, but also the beauty, of meeting someone from another country” inspires her.

Earlier this month, Wiseman received the Volunteer of the Year Award from IES Abroad, one of several corporations Wofford works with to provide international opportunities to students. Wiseman has served on the IES Abroad board of directors, academic council, curriculum committee, program review committees and various academic task forces along with other government committees.

It isn't that there isn't enough to do at Wofford; Wiseman said she takes on these positions with IES and other companies because it enhances opportunities for Wofford students. Instead of just sending students on IES trips, Wofford is a member of the organization, allowing them to shape programs, which enhances their ability to offer full academic credit to students for the classes they take abroad.

A report from the Institute of International Education in 2011 listed Wofford as the No. 2 school in the country for the number of credits awarded to students studying abroad.

About 23 percent of Wofford's students study abroad each year, exceeding the national average for participation. Participation fluctuated slightly but didn't decrease significantly during the recession. Wiseman said the school's faculty and staff have worked together to make a culture at Wofford of studying abroad. They do everything they can to eliminate obstacles for students, including juggling course loads, searching for scholarships and transferring credits.

Travis Trojan from Drayton said he chose Wofford because of its international opportunities. A sophomore at the school, Trojan is studying Chinese and German language and culture. He took his first Wofford-affiliated trip to Beijing during the January interim his freshman year.

He spent three weeks at the Beijing Language and Cultural University in the heart of the capital city. He was enrolled in an intensive language program where he estimated he and his four American classmates completed almost two semesters' worth of lessons in two weeks.

“I don't think you can really understand a language until you're exposed to the culture. You had to learn the language in order to survive,” he said.

Trojan said he enjoyed Beijing, and he's looking for a teaching internship that would allow him to return to the city over the summer break. He also has study abroad experiences scheduled in Germany for the fall of 2013 and in China for the fall of 2014.

Valerie Fulton, a senior at Wofford from Greenville, also has taken multiple trips. The summer between her freshman and sophomore year she spent six weeks in Brazil. Then, during the January interim of her junior year, she went to France and Spain for three weeks and spent the spring semester of her junior year in Argentina. Fulton said she thought about going to school farther away, but she decided the study abroad opportunities offered by Wofford were a better option for developing independence.

“The opportunities I'm presented with are just amazing,” the Spanish and history major said. “I really can't say enough about immersion.”

Language students at Wofford are required to take a semester abroad, but Fulton said her experience was about more than learning a language; it was about meeting people.

“I miss my Argentinian host family. Sometimes I'm homesick for Greenville, and sometimes I'm homesick for Argentina,” she said.

For Fulton, the largest take-home experience from her study abroad was confidence. When she went to Brazil, she said she was terrified and homesick. By the time she got to Argentina, she said she was able to relax and feel at home.

“I felt like I could do anything,” she said. “It opened my eyes to what I could do. I think that really pushed me to think about what I want to do.”

Fulton now is waiting for the results of her law school entrance exams, and she is planning a career in foreign service, possibly with the goal of working for the U.S. State Department.

“It's the thing to do, and everyone knows it,” Wiseman said. “The students themselves say that it doesn't matter where you go, just go … It's the thing that makes your college education; that gives you the extra value.”



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