Whatcom sees the world

by Jessica Etemadi

Horizon Reporter

Whatcom Community College offers many learning opportunities here on campus, but many students agree that some things you just can’t grasp sitting behind a desk. One of the most exciting offerings is the Study Abroad program, brought to Whatcom by the Washington State Community College Consortium for Study Abroad, or WCCCSA.

Ulli Schraml, the Study Abroad coordinator, works with over 10 other community colleges all along the I-5 corridor, including Bellevue, Edmonds, and Pierce Community Colleges.

“I’ve been doing this job for at least 13 years,” he noted.  However, Schraml explains that “it became bigger in the last ten years or so.”

“Most students are first time international travelers,” Schraml said.  The majority of participants are between ages 18 and 21, but occasionally, older students take part in the program.

There are “always at least two or three in their 30’s,” Schraml explained. 

One student took her first trip while she was in her mid 60’s, and eventually traveled to every location offered by the program.  By this time, she was in her 70’s. 

“She was just a trooper,” Schraml said.

The Study Abroad program is open to both students and faculty.  Participants stay with a host family, or homestay, in their desired country.  Food is included, with breakfast five days a week, and dinner four days a week.  Most students travel during the weekend. 

“It’s open to anyone,” Schraml explained. 

Participants earn 15 credits on the 10-week program; however, tuition is not included in the cost, which ranges from $5,500 to $6,500.  Every once in a while, shorter 4-week programs are offered, with students earning less credit for the trip.  Airfare is also the financial responsibility of the student, along with textbooks and any meals not listed on the itinerary. 

After all these expenses are added up, studying abroad can get expensive.  However, students may use their financial aid towards the program, and numerous scholarships are also offered. 

“You have to start early to find scholarships,” Schraml said. 

Through this enriching program, students can travel to Italy, England, and Costa Rica.  New for fall 2011, Cape Town, South Africa is offered along with Valencia, Spain new for winter 2012.  A group of students have also just returned from a trip to Cusco, Peru. 

Even though students may be tempted to explore all day and take in the new culture, “there’s an academic component that we emphasize,” explained Schraml.

“We always try to find something that works in the location,” he said.  There is always at least one session taught by faculty native to that specific region, and classes which pertain to the particular country, such as British Life and Culture which is offered on, of course, the London trip. 

In addition, students participate in academic courses which are generally in the humanities or social science field, and sometimes natural science. 

For example, on the Florence trip, offered spring 2011, students take ‘Geography of Weather, Climate, Vegetation, and Soils’, ‘Geography of World Affairs’, and an Italian language and culture course. 

On the London trip, offered fall 2010, students participate in ‘Introduction to Media Writing’ and ‘Popular Literature: The Vampire’, along with the British culture course. 

“The instructors are using the program side as a big classroom,” Schraml said. 

Before the group departs, students partake in an orientation session which helps them decide what to pack, which textbooks to buy, and covers tricky subjects such as insurance.  The session aims to “prepare them a little bit,” Schraml said, in regards to the culture shock international travelers often experience.  

Also as part of the process, participants must obtain two letters of recommendation (one from faculty), get a doctor’s checkup and have the medical report form signed, schedule an interview with Ulli Schraml, and write a short narrative about interests and goals.  This helps the instructors and supervisors on the trip to work with you and create the best, personalized experience possible. 

“So far I’ve always gotten good feedback,” noted Schraml.

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