Mason holds first student summit on global education

Students present their study abroad experience (Photo courtesy of Audrey Mattain)
Students present their study abroad experience (Photo courtesy of Audrey Mattain)

The Center for Global Education held its first ever student summit on global education, which allowed students to share their experiences studying abroad.

On Nov. 13, students presented poster boards with their study abroad experiences in the Johnson Center third floor atrium. Later that afternoon, students showed slideshows and videos that chronicled their trips in a study abroad panel. The presentations included photos, lessons the students learned and tips for prospective study abroad students.

“You think of things from a global perspective,” said a student who shared her experience from a trip to Australia.

Dr. Al Fuertes, assistant professor of New Century College and field practitioner who specializes in community-based trauma healing, came up with the idea for the summit. Fuertes began leading a study abroad program to the Philippines in 2008.

“In 2009 I started to notice that when students returned they started having questions in terms of how study abroad impacted them,” Fuertes said.

Fuertes explained that when students return from studying abroad, many of their program directors are not available, which makes it more difficult to “try to make sense and find meaning” in their experiences.

“Many [students] revisited their majors and concentrations asking questions like 'Am I on the right track?' and 'Is this what I want to do?'” Fuertes said.

Fuertes saw that there were no programs for study abroad program alumni to share how their experiences had impacted their studies and beyond.

“We [in the Mason community] don't have a program that provides Global Education alumni support or space to come together and learn,” Fuertes said.

He decided to create an event where students would have a public space to share. “That gave me an idea for the summit and conference. Students can make sense of their experiences and talk together. They deserve it.”

Fuertes worked on the idea for the summit with former Center for Global Education staff Kevin Stoy. Fuertes sent the proposal to the CGE and organized the event with CGE staff and interns.

“...one of the main goals of the Global Summit is to give alumni of our programs the opportunity to reflect upon and express how their study abroad experiences impacted them and their lives,” Joelle Williams, program officer for CGE wrote in an email, “and to give them an outlet through which to share this with others.”

Williams, who helped organize the event, explained how the summit differed from a one-on-one meeting with a CGE advisor.

“Rather than hearing about our programs from the CGE staff, guests of the summit can hear directly from their peers who have experienced the very programs of which they speak,” Williams said.

Fuertes and Williams hope that the student summit will be a bigger annual event in the future.

“It’s a good start, I think,” Fuertes said.

Fuertes plans to coordinate the event with other programs that feature study abroad, such as the Center for Field Studies, Conflict Resolution, Global Affairs, and Business Administration.

Sophomore Kathleen Wills, a student blogger for Patriot Life and neuroscience major, shared a video montage of her time in London and other European countries in the panel.

“It is nice to have program alums to come back to talk about this,” Wills said.

She hoped that the presentations would “spark student interest” in studying abroad.

“I think a lot of people have reservations about studying abroad,” Wills said, explaining that a student might be overwhelmed with the challenges he or she faces when applying to study abroad. “I had such an amazing experience; I want people to know it’s completely worth it.”

Melissa Kelly, history major who had both a poster board and slideshow presentation on her time in Nice, France, talked about the benefits of learning from language barriers and travelling beyond the tourist attractions.

“Study abroad really helps you understand culture beyond just traveling,” Kelly said. Kelly suggested that anyone who is financially able should look into study abroad programs. “It takes a lot of planning and preparation but it is well worth it,” Kelly said.

Fuertes says he is a strong advocate for studying abroad, saying that an experience abroad transcends academic boundaries.

“The world is becoming a global village,” Fuertes said, “anything [students] do outside the US will help build [global] competency.”

Fuertes said he encourages students to “go outside of their comfort zones, learn what the world can offer. There is so much to learn outside of their own world.”

“Many people say when you are at GMU you don’t need to study abroad because it is one of the most culturally diverse campuses,” Fuertes said, “but doing a study abroad experience lets you learn something totally different.”

For more information on study abroad programs, visit the CGE website.