The world at your elbow

By Yollette Merritt
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Elie Altman from France and Andreas Martinsen and Ingrid Bruvold from Norway, as they clean the campus for their Environmental Studies class. Photo by Yollette Merritt.

Bonjour! Konnichiwa! Hola! Salama Akeukum! Guten Tag! Ni Hau! Namaste! Hej!

California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) has “the world at its elbows.”  CSUMB at the university level is a national leader in student body diversity, 11th in the nation and fourth in the state, according to the U.S. News & World Report.

Most recognize the student body diversity at CSUMB, but many are unaware of the international composition. “In 2013-2014, CSUMB was ranked nationally the eighth top provider for year-long study abroad opportunities,” said Julio Castro, CSUMB Education Abroad Coordinator. There are students from more than 45 countries including: Brazil, Chile, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam.

“So far this year, we have 452 students attending CSUMB from countries around the world,” stated Kasey Scolavino, International Student Coordinator. Over the past five years, there have been more than 2,000 international students helping CSUMB enlarge its worldview, taking the campus from parochial to international.  They enrich our opportunities to learn the valuable skill of understanding others in our micro and macro relationship circles.

International Student, Elie Altman, is a biology major from Paris, France and away from his family for the first time. Altman remarked how welcomed he feels at CSUMB and was pleasantly surprised to see in-action the “special friendly relationship” between faculty and students.

“CSUMB has one of the most extensive study abroad programs in the California State University System,” said Castro. In addition to international students coming to CSUMB, there is an increasing number of CSUMB students who have studied abroad, “more than 750 over the past three years,” according to Castro. This is in addition to faculty-led travel not part of the Education Abroad Program, for example, the students who traveled to Spain in June with Professor Juan Jose Gutierrez.

As CSUMB is one of the most popular destinations in the state for study with foreign students, there are strong reciprocal relationships in place with foreign institutions around the world which translates into special benefits for CSUMB students. Several have benefited from “tuition-free” slots, and others have had costs covered by grants and competitive scholarships including “the well worth the effort” Gilman Scholarship. “So far this semester, there have been 35 applicants to study in Germany over the winter break,” stated Castro, with six scholarship recipients.

“In my experience, the biggest hurdle for students to overcome is this mental barrier. Students are scared of the experience,” states Mark Cox, Education Abroad Ambassador and fourth-year student, majoring in computer science with a minor in global studies. Mark, who has studied in Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands, states, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Students have to realize where their comfort zone is and step out of it.”

Looking ahead to next year or the year(s) after, how about that international job placement after graduation? Or what about a present to yourself to visit the Amazon in Brazil or climb the Himalayas or tour the Uffizi Galleries in Florence? Why not intern as a curator at the La Casa Azul in Mexico City? And no matter how attractive the promotional tour package, there is nothing like visiting Paris with a friend who is Parisian or a French native. CSUMB has 29 French students on campus this semester.

Who knows, the classmate (who becomes a friend) seated next to you might become your valued connection to employment or recreational opportunities in a country, or countries in your future job or life experience, now only a far distant speck in the imagination? The first step is the idea, the vision. The next step, as true with many things, is the connections. After all, the world is at your elbow!

Looking ahead, the CSUMB Seaside Society Club, in collaboration with Education Abroad, is hosting a welcome back reception next month for the 78 Summer Study Abroad Students. All are invited to attend, including the international students. Stay tuned for details. Remember, the world is at your elbow!

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