Although most study abroad programs last only a quarter, the positive experiences affect students throughout their lifetimes.
Pierce College, as a member of the Washington Community College Consortium for Study Abroad, enables students to travel abroad.
Mary Meulblok, manager of international services, and Jennifer Gruver, program coordinator, are the two Pierce College study abroad advisors.
As representatives of Pierce College in the WCCCSA, they meet quarterly with other members to organize affordable programs in diverse locations.
The WCCCSA is part of the American Institute for Foreign Study, which includes more than 6,000 colleges.
Currently, students from the WCCCSA are in two study abroad programs: one in Valencia, Spain, and the other in Australia/New Zealand.
Locations available include Cape Town, South Africa (fall 2013), Tokyo, Japan (fall 2013), Australia/New Zealand (winter 2013) and Florence, Italy (spring 2013).
Students also could study for four weeks in Alajuela, Costa Rica (summer 2013). A different summer program for software engineering in Beijing, China, is being developed.
Although the summer programs in Costa Rica and China cost less, some of the other trips are more expensive, causing many students to shy away from the opportunity to study abroad.
“Yes, the programs can be expensive because they range between $3,000 to $7,000,” Meulblok said, “but students can use financial aid, scholarships and grants to fund their experience.”
Meulblok and Gruver are available to help interested students through the process of accessing these resources by guiding them through the necessary steps.
Meulblok studied abroad in France when she attended Western Washington University.
“It completely changed my life. I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t done it,” she said.
Later, Meulblok joined the international club at WWU and it was there she met her husband, Dirk, who was studying abroad from Holland. She has never stopped traveling, and she’s escorted students on WCCSA trips in Costa Rica and Florence.
At Pierce College, Meulblok said she is excited to help students experience other countries.
“This is one of the most single life-changing moments that a young person can have,” she said.
Student Jake Costa traveled to Costa Rica last summer and attests to this. He came back with a completely changed perspective and now plans to be a Spanish teacher.
“This trip has affected me in the best way possible,” Costa said. “Such a wonderful experience goes by so quickly. With the experience that you get from the trip, it’s worth every penny.”
Nahui Ollin, a Pierce College student who traveled to London, England, had similar experiences.
“Living in another country was the most thrilling experience I have ever had,” said Ollin, who visited England in the fallws. “Before going I thought that traveling would not change you, that you would stay the same person even if you were in another planet. So while arriving, I was really skeptic of what my experiences were going to be. Yet, the exact contrary happened. I feel I have grown as a person.”
Students study Monday through Friday in classes designed for their individual locations. An instructor from one of the community colleges travels with the students and teaches two of the three classes. The third is always taught by a native.
“I took philosophy, critical thinking, and British life and culture,” Ollin said. “I really enjoyed them, especially philosophy and critical thinking, which were taught by the same professor. He was very knowledgeable, and you could tell he loved teaching us.”
Outside of class, students are encouraged to explore the land around them. This usually includes sight-seeing or activities specific to the country, such as zip-lining in Costa Rica.
“The weekends are one of the best parts of the trip,” Costa said. “This is when we would travel far from where we stayed and experience amazing things such as volcanoes, beaches, tropical forests and much more. The whole time you’re doing all these amazing things, you get to do it all with other students at the same time and, as the bond grows, it continuously gets better. Even after the trip you will still have those same friends for a lifetime.”
Many weekend trips are paid for as part of the program expenses. Additional trips are also available to students, and a travel agent is always on hand to answer questions and arrange everything.
What students are required to pay for or what is included in their fee depends on the trip. Airfare, tuition, books and passports are some of the basic extra costs that most trips include. Housing also varies from trip to trip. Places such as Italy, Japan and Australia usually houses students in apartments or dorms.
The South Africa trip accommodates students in a big lodge while places such as London, Costa Rica and Spain have the students stay with host families.
“The family I stayed with treated me like I was their own son, and I couldn’t have felt more at home,” Costa said. “Not only did they take care of me with food, shelter and transportation, they also were there to make sure I was having the best time possible. The family that I stayed with will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Interested students can contact Grover or Meulblok through email and telephone, which can be accessed on the Pierce College directory or on the Study Abroad page.
To access the latter page, students can type “study abroad” into the search area on the top-right corner of the Pierce College website.
Students may also go by their office in room C290F on Wednesdays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
“What this program does is teach people more about themselves,” Meulblok said. “By learning more about another culture they are learning more about their own. Students come back stronger people. And always, without exception, every single student wants to travel more.”
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