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ASU short-term study abroad programs pack a punch

ASU students in Nicaragua

Bruce Oberstein, professor of practice in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, has led ASU study abroad experiences in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, above, as well as a student club trip to Vietnam. This fall he’s added an international intensive experience in Belize to the itinerary, in which students are completing a course in the Fall B term and studying Indigenous healthcare in a Mayan community in Belize during winter break.

October 24, 2016

Having transferred to ASU as a junior with all of her general studies credits completed, Diana Serban said she almost gave up on the option to study abroad.

“I wasn’t certain study abroad would match up with the requirements for my chemical engineering major,” explained Serban, now a senior.

There were other considerations as well.

“Since I’m fully self-supporting and pay rent, I couldn’t afford to study abroad an entire semester,” she said. “And I thought going away in summer before my senior year might mean giving up my last chance to do a summer internship. 

“When I came across the month-long summer program in Beijing, which is open to students from all majors and incorporates an internship, I was interested right away!”

Last summer’s inaugural Devils in Beijing program, sponsored by ASU Study Abroad and the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, drew Serban and 23 other participants (including three Starbucks College Achievement Plan students). It is among a growing number of international opportunities developed at ASU that are shorter — yet very hands-on — and putting study abroad within reach of more students.

ASU’s annual Study Abroad Fair, a lollapalooza-style showcase of the more than 250 programs students can choose from in 65 countries, was held Monday, Oct. 24, on ASU’s Tempe campus.

At the fair, students could investigate semester-long and even year-long study abroad opportunities. They also discovered global intensive experiences that run 7-12 days.

“Students from any major interested in experiences ranging from 10 days to six-and-a-half weeks may want to check out some of the newest offerings affiliated with the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts,” noted Casey Self, the college’s executive director of academic advising.

For those who would like to combine study abroad with an internship, in addition to the program in Beijing there are opportunities to work in companies in Prague and Dublin, and to work side-by-side with doctors in Nicaragua, providing hands-on medical and veterinary care.

There are applied options even for those who can only get away for a week or two: A spring break program in the Dominican Republic offers a taste of working in the Peace Corps, a July experience in Cuba focused on travel writing and blogging, a summer experience in South Africa offering volunteering opportunities with non-profits.

“ASU’s commitment to access and inclusion means working to make enriching educational opportunities like study abroad possible for students of all means and circumstances,” noted Duane Roen, dean ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts and dean of University College. “I’m thrilled that our faculty and staff have been collaborating enthusiastically with ASU Study Abroad staff in their work to expand the kinds of international experiences available over winter and spring breaks and during the summer.”

Serban and Jesus Mena Salas, an ASU junior who also participated in last summer’s “Devils in Beijing” program, shared their reflections on that experience with ASU Now, to give future participants a glimpse into their experience abroad. Both held English language internships with MullenLowe Profero, the international digital marketing company. 

‘I was surprised by how quickly we clicked’

Diana Serban had heard from others who had done study abroad that students who go through that experience together build a close bond. Still, she said “I was surprised by how quickly we clicked!

“We explored the city together right away, ate together, went out together, and did most things together,” Serban said. “I feel so lucky to have experienced such an amazing place with such a great group of people. Many of us are still friends now and try to hang out as often as we can with our busy schedules. We are actually planning to go to Mexico together for Spring Break, which is really exciting.” 

ASU student Diana Serban in tent at Great Wall of China

ASU "Devils in Beijing" participant Diana Serban peeks out of her tent during an overnight camping excursion along the Great Wall of China. Photo courtesy Jessica Hirshorn

Question: What did you do in your internship?

Answer: MullenLowe Profero focuses on designing websites for their clients in the marketing area. The Beijing office is the tech hub of the company, so my internship was in the technology/IT sector. Even though this internship wasn’t engineering-focused, I took the opportunity to learn as much as I could about software and website design and project management. My mentor was an account manager and her projects were for their client Apple. She walked me through what the company does, her specific projects, and JIRA project tracking software . I did quality assurance on some website pages for an Apple project. Additionally, I did content population using WordPress for a Kaiser Permanente project and assisted another account manager in completing functional specifications for a project. 

Q: What aspects of your experience in China have really stuck with you?

A. There were just so many simple memories I have of interacting with the local people that touched my heart, especially with the children. I found it beautiful that I could still communicate with people without speaking the same language. This experience taught me how important body language can be and how small things like smiling make a huge difference. I also find myself thinking of the memories with the other students from ASU. Learning to navigate and figure out a strange new place together has a way of bringing you closer in a way you don’t really expect. You build strong friendships and make the greatest memories.

Q: What do you plan to do after graduation? 

A: I would like to travel for one or two months before starting a professional position. I really love to travel and meet people from all over the world. I feel it’s important to experience different cultures to expand my worldview and communication skills. I attended the Lessons from Abroad returnee conference in Tucson, where I learned that some companies have rotational programs where you work in three or four different places for a time. I am considering taking a position like this in industry, where I would get to work internationally.

Taking the road less traveled  

Learning that Italy and China weretwo feasible study abroad options for his major in interdisciplinary studies, Jesus Mena Salas chose “Devils in Beijing” because he thought it would be the experience that would push him the most.

“At the time, China seemed like a greater challenge as far as language, culture and overall uncertainty,” he said. “Also, it was cheaper. 

“Studying abroad was a blessing for me,” emphasized Mena Salas, who was one of 16 ASU students to be awarded the lucrative Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to support their 2016 summer experiences abroad. The national, highly competitive scholarship aims to broaden participation in study abroad by supporting federal Pell grant recipients, ethnic minority students, students with disabilities, first-generation students and community college students. 

ASU student Jesus Mena Salas on Great Wall of China

ASU student Jesus Mena Salas flashes the fork while enjoying spectacular views from the Great Wall of China. Other extracurricular activities included visits to the Forbidden City, the Beijing Opera, Chinese acrobatics, optional temple visits, and participation in a community service day and a business seminar. Photo Courtesy Jessica Hirshorn

Q: Did your internship influence your career direction in some way?

A: The internship most definitely influenced my career plans, in a rather unconventional way. After spending a month learning about marketing and digital representation, I realized that I wanted something different for my career. Staying in the center of Beijing, experiencing the poor air quality and water quality, I realized that what I really want to do is pursue a career in environmental engineering. Since coming back I added environmental engineering to my major (his interdisciplinary studies concentrations are in and have been taking environmental classes to pursue a field I am truly passionate about. 

Q: What was the best surprise of the study abroad experience?

A: I think the best surprise was the sense of familiarity I felt while being in China. I thought I was going to feel completely out of place and experience tremendous culture shock, but I didn't. I felt the environment was very similar to my hometown in Mexico. Even the infrastructure was very similar.

Q: Most memorable lesson?

A: I remember a day I went into a barber shop to get a haircut, and I struggled for like 15 minutes to explain to the barber the way I wanted my hair style. I think he was getting a little frustrated, since he sat me down and starting cutting my hair without me telling him anything. Surprisingly, I think that's my favorite style of hair so far. I think the moral of the story is to try new things even if they are scary, because most of the time those things are the ones you cherish the most and remember forever. 

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