by Ryan Morgan
Photos courtesy of Ulli Schraml
With trips to Italy, England, Spain, Australia, Costa Rica, South Africa, and now China and Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, students can now go to every continent except Antarctica. Whatcom Community College tries to offer one study abroad option each quarter.
Ulli Schraml, the director of International Studies at Whatcom, is a native of Germany and came to the U.S. studying abroad 17 years ago.
Schraml highly encourages students to take the opportunity to go abroad. “You can’t even measure it [the experience],” he said, “seeing the U.S. from the outside.”
Florence and Australia have been among the most popular trips offered. Schraml has gone on many of the trips himself, as many of the instructors will have visited the locations to get a better idea of how the classes will be taught.
The classes abroad are held Monday through Thursday. One instructor will travel with the students and teach two of the 5-credit classes, while the other class is taught by a foreign teacher from the host university.
Sometimes the students go through a “culture shock,” Schraml said. It is not like being in a Spanish classroom for 45 minutes a day. “You immerse yourself [in the culture].”
Whatcom makes sure the students are as prepared as possible. Before the class departs to its chosen country, students go through an orientation put on by Whatcom. The orientation goes over everything from how to pack, to what forms of currency they should bring.
Schraml emphasized the support and structure Whatcom provides to the students, many of whom are first-time international travelers.
“It is a very thorough orientation,” he said, adding that the students need to realize “it’s not going to be sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.”
The trip is a great opportunity for students to learn first-hand about different cultures, and to gain a deeper understanding of their foreign studies. Schraml said small things like going to the same café every day will help build relationships and only add to the experience.
Schraml said many students who go once “catch the bug” and will go abroad again. “You know in Florence you have the gelato, pasta, fresh fruits,” he said. “It is truly a life changing experience.”
On many of the trips students stay with host families, but on some trips, such as this spring’s trip to Florence, students will stay in apartments and will experience more freedom than they would with a host family.
The instructors will often lead day trips to historical sites or museums. For example in Florence, the students got special passes to the Uffizi Gallery art museum that let them skip over long lines. Schraml also said that although there is much learning taking place, the students still have plenty of time to explore on their own.
Whatcom is a part of the Consortium for Study Abroad, which includes 16 community colleges in the Northwest. The consortium helps the colleges share and collaborate ideas to improve their study abroad programs.
The classes taught abroad usually consist of a group of between 15 to 30 students. The quarter lasts 10 weeks. The cost of the trips, while still expensive, is on the lower end compared to most four-year colleges. Schraml said they aim for low cost, high quality trips.
To qualify for study abroad, students must have at least a 2.5 grade point average, and must complete a checklist, which includes an interview with Schraml and two letters of recommendation among other issues dealing with finances, classes, and housing.
These days “we are becoming more connected,” said Schraml. “We need to know more about each other.” Schraml said this worldly understanding could lead to solving problems in the future and that studying abroad is something everyone should experience.