Taking Abroad View
Scholarships, Financial Aid Available
To Help MSC Students Study Abroad
By Sheron Smith
As a teenager, Gracen Strong had a chance to live with family
friends in Paris and go to school for a year.
But the adventure ended before it began. An illness forced her to
stay home, and what might have been the opportunity of a lifetime
"I've always regretted that I wasn't able to go," said
Strong, now 20 and a sophomore majoring in Communications &
Information Technology at Macon State College. "I wanted another
chance to immerse myself in a different culture but I love college
and didn't want to interrupt my studies. So when I found out I could
study abroad and get academic credit for it, I couldn't pass it
Strong finally will get to make that trip to Paris as one of five
Macon State students who are participating in European study abroad
programs this summer. The others are Sarah Rodriguez, also Paris-bound;
Renota Dennard and Richard Sager, who are headed for London; and
Maria Khave-Messing, who will study in Thessaloniki, Greece.
As Macon State's study abroad coordinator, Dr. Gwen S. Sell hopes
to convince more students to follow their example. Although Macon
State students are taking advantage of international programs like
never before - since 1996, about two dozen have studied abroad,
more than at any other period in the school's history - the numbers
remain small in relation to the total enrollment.
"Many of our students have family and job obligations that
make it hard for them to seriously consider study abroad,"
said Sell, an associate professor of English who has twice taught
at a London-based study abroad program. "But there are others
who have the freedom and desire to go but they're nervous because
they've never traveled abroad before, or even been on a plane in
some cases, so they talk themselves out of it. I tell students that
if they can overcome their fear and try it once, they'll wonder
why they ever hesitated. Study abroad can literally change their
Traditionally the province of residential college students from upper-income
families, study abroad is now a more realistic option for those with
working- and middle-class backgrounds. International study opportunities
for University System of Georgia students have significantly grown
under the leadership of the chancellor, Dr. Stephen R. Portch, who
is convinced that such experiences are vital in a world where technology
is removing economic and cultural boundaries. Based on his conviction,
Portch in 1995 told the state's 34 public institutions to do more
to encourage study abroad.
Want To Go?
If you are a current Macon State
student or plan to enroll soon, it's not too early to explore
study abroad opportunities for summer 2002. To learn more,
visit Macon State's study abroad website at http://www.maconstate.edu/academics/studyabroad/.
You may also e-mail questions to Dr. Gwen S. Sell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For MSC Foundation scholarship information, e-mail Sue Chipman
in the Office of Development & Alumni Affairs at email@example.com,
or call 471-2732.
To support that directive, the Board of Regents set up a Council
for International Education and created a scholarship program to
help students pay for study abroad experiences. The Regents also
established a goal to send at least 2 percent of University System
students to study abroad programs each year.
Under the council's umbrella, each of the 34 University System
institutions appointed an international education coordinator -
Sell holds the position at Macon State - to administer study abroad
programs and help organize campus activities designed to raise global
awareness among students and faculty.
Macon State's response included organizing an annual International
Festival, featuring food and entertainment of various cultures,
and developing a series of lunchtime "travelogues" where
faculty share their recent international experiences with students.
Sell also stepped up recruiting efforts through her appearances
at MSC orientation sessions for new students and, working with the
Student Life office, setting up study abroad information booths
at the college's club fair held each fall.
The college's study abroad effort also includes emphasizing the
relevance of international experience to students in Macon State's
professionally oriented bachelor's degree programs of business,
communications and information technology. This year's International
Festival featured an appearance by Dr. David A. Ricks, international
business and management professor at the University of Missouri-St.
Louis. Ricks wrote a book chronicling embarrassing blunders U.S.
firms have made when trying to do business overseas because they
didn't take the time to learn cultural differences.
Interest in study abroad among Macon State students is always
high - some 50 to 75 seriously investigate the possibility each
year - but generally about three to six end up actually going. Besides
the fear factor and lack of time, a big obstacle for many students
is coming up with the money.
Richard C. Sutton, director of international programs for the Board
of Regents, said those issues are typical among students at most
of the University System's non-residential schools. But it's important,
he added, that all University System students are exposed to study
"If we are to serve our students effectively and prepare them
well for the inescapable challenges of a global society, each of
our institutions needs to contribute to the study abroad effort,"
Sutton said. "It's important for faculty to create study abroad
programs that are tailored to the particular needs, interests and
constraints of their students. Macon State College has the potential
to be a leader in this process."
Various University System schools, including Macon State, have
attempted to address student concerns by expanding the choices for
five-week summer experiences, which are less costly, intimidating
and time-consuming than the traditional study abroad model of spending
an entire semester or academic year in another country.
Macon State is directly involved with five of these shorter term University
System programs, which cost between $3,500 and $3,800 each, including
lodging and most meals: London, housed at the University of Surrey-Roehampton;
Paris, housed at the Foundation Internationale d' Accueil de Paris;
St. Petersburg, Russia, hosted by St. Petersburg Technical University;
Thessaloniki, Greece, hosted by the University of Aristotle; and Montepulciano,
Italy, housed at a city facility.
Among the MSC students who will study
abroad in summer 2001 are (back row, left to right) Sarah
Rodriguez, Maria Khave-Messing and Gracen Strong. Seated are
(left to right) Mary Mears, who is scheduled to teach in London
this summer, and Dr. Gwen Sell, MSC's study abroad coordinator.
University System students travel as a group to these programs
and take one or two courses each, with plenty of time built in for
field trips and sightseeing. The courses are taught by faculty from
University System schools.
Even with the greater affordability of the short-term programs,
study abroad admittedly is not cheap.
But financial aid is available through federal programs and the
state's HOPE and the Regents' scholarship programs. In addition,
the MSC Foundation sets aside some funds each year toward study
abroad scholarships for Macon State students. Sue Chipman, the Foundation's
executive director, said that many other scholarships awarded through
the Foundation could also be used to help pay for study abroad,
even if they are not officially designated as study abroad scholarships.
"For example, the Anna M. Nemac Memorial Scholarship is specifically
for psychology majors," Chipman said, "but there is nothing
in the rules that says a psychology major who wants to study abroad
couldn't apply that scholarship toward study abroad."
The key is planning ahead. If money is a concern, Sell said, students
should begin applying for financial aid and setting up a savings
plan at least six to eight months in advance of a study abroad trip.
In the case of most of the Foundation's regular scholarships (which
are competitive but not solely based on grade point averages), applications
are accepted each spring, with the money awarded to the successful
applicants the following fall. So students who hope to use those
scholarship funds for study abroad in summer 2002 would need to
apply in spring 2001.
Many Macon State students who have participated in international
programs socked away savings from their jobs and money they received
as holiday and birthday gifts.
Michael Beasley, a sophomore history major, volunteered for some
overtime shifts at his Robins Air Force Base aircraft worker job
when he decided he wanted to study abroad in St. Petersburg last
summer. The MSC Foundation supplemented his savings with a $250
study abroad scholarship, and Beasley - the first Macon State student
to study abroad in Russia - also applied the entire amount of his
1999 income tax refund toward his trip.
"For me it was like, save $200 here and $100 there until I
came up with what I needed," said Beasley, 28, who studied
macroeconomics and art history during his month in St. Petersburg.
"It was well worth it. Any student who wants to go should do
whatever it takes to raise money. If they really want to go they'll
find a way."