Gannon University has entered into new partnerships with both the Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Ireland, and the University of Osnabrück in Germany.
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) allows Gannon students to utilize their scholarships from the university to study abroad, instead of relying only on grant money and fundraising as was previously the case.
Not only will this give more students the opportunity to travel during their time at Gannon, but it will also lead to the development of lasting partnerships between Gannon and universities from around the globe.
“We’re looking at our Catholic identity and mission, but also outside of that,” Christopher Vilevac, associate director at the International Student Office, said. “We’re looking at other schools hopefully like in Italy, and we’re looking to finalize things in Chile, and even summer programs.”
At the same time, Vilevac warned students against staying on the beaten path.
Vilevac said some students would not go visit a different culture if they were unaware or unfamiliar with its people and culture.
Because of this, Vilevac said he hoped students can help build itineraries that reflect the idiosyncratic nature of the country they’re visiting.
“You can go on to Google Maps and walk around the Louvre now,” he said. “You’ve been able to do that for the last two years for free.”
Still, Vilevac cautioned students and travelers that the Internet doesn’t give an idea of the cultural fingerprint.
Vilevac said he hoped that more students became interested in studying abroad, as only about 2 percent of American students studying in college do so during their time in school.
“We want to expand our idea of what studying abroad means,” Vilevac said. “We want to encourage our students to say that Canada is still one of those countries, even Puerto Rico or Guam.”
This message of a global curriculum mirrors the draft of Gannon’s strategic plan, which states that the university will “heed the universality of its Catholic tradition to infuse a global perspective throughout each student’s education.”
The draft of the plan, which was approved by the Board of Trustees in February of 2013, also highlights both “study/service abroad participation” and “international student enrollment” as success measures for the coming years – emphasizing that these initiatives “expand recruitment, retention and success of international students.”
“I loved Paris,” said junior French/ international studies, business major, Sarah Sgro.
“It’s totally OK to go and learn the language, but if you don’t have some sort of basis it becomes difficult,” Sgro, who spent her spring semester last year in France, said. “There something for everyone.
“My accent changed hugely while I was taking lessons, because we literally sat there for the first half hour of class going over the phonetics. You could even study finance there!”
Gannon recognizes that students want to travel to Europe, and have done surveys to back that claim up. But the university continues to diversify its options as it explores new opportunities.
“Maybe we skip Brazil and go straight on to the next country which may be Uruguay,” Vilevac said. “Options in South Korea are also opening up.”
Ultimately, Gannon continues to emphasize the global aspects of campus in an effort to both develop the student body and reach out to international communities.
From International Night to the new Study Abroad initiatives, Gannon is focused on the tentative strategic plan; laying the groundwork for the next five years of organizational development.
But for Vilevac, success is really about opening students’ eyes to the world around them.
“I hope that some students realize that we are not the center of the world,” he said. “There are thousands of cultures around us.”