Susquehanna’s award-winning Global Opportunities program, unlike any other in the country, is a graduation requirement pinned to a pair of bookended, credit-bearing courses taught by professors.
BY AMANDA O’ROURKE
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF SUSQUEHANNA STUDENTS, FACULTY AND ALUMNI
When Katherine Ford ’13 Traveled to Aix-Enprovence, France, for her Global Opportunities Program, it’s unlikely she foresaw how the experience would change her life. At the time, she was a theatre major looking forward to a career in dramatic art. But while she was in France, her course changed.
“Going abroad for a semester gave me the opportunity to view my major and career plans from a different perspective, and two things really occurred to me,” Ford remembers.
“One, I spent the semester not really missing theatre as much as I thought I should if I would do it for the rest of my life, and two, I really fell in love with French culture, language, history and living abroad.”
Her revelation had such a profound impact that Ford knew she wanted to help other students be open to similar experiences. Upon returning to Susquehanna, she reset her sights on a career in international education.
After graduation, she earned a master’s degree in European history from Cardiff University in Cardiff, Wales, and went on to spend four years at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, in its international programs office.
Today, Ford lives in Liverpool, England, where she is the study abroad manager for inbound students at the University of Liverpool.
“All students should have a crosscultural experience before they graduate in order to fully understand themselves before entering the workforce,” Ford says now.
“Studying abroad gives students the opportunity to deeply reflect on their own cultures and lives, and I think this is vital.”
Why We Go
Experiences like Ford’s are what faculty and staff hoped for when they created Susquehanna’s Global Opportunities program 10 years ago.
Implemented in 2009, GO requires students to study away from campus. In simpler terms, GO seeks to push students out of their comfort zones and into a world they may have never experienced before.
“We had a lot of students tell us that they came to Susquehanna because it was like their hometown,” says Scott Manning, dean of global programs. “But their hometown is not what the world looks like, and we decided we were not serving our students if we didn’t somehow give them the opportunity to experience the world.”
The early 2000s were pivotal years at Susquehanna University, marked by considerable growth of the student body and the campus’ physical footprint. The university was also in the midst of a reaccreditation review by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, on the heels of which came the university’s development of new learning goals and the creation of its Central Curriculum.
It was during this time that a mandatory, study-away requirement gained traction.
“Faculty recognized a need for students to understand more about both global issues and domestic diversity. This came together in a focus on cross-cultural skills,” remembers Linda McMillin, retired provost and Degenstein Professor of Leadership. “We came up with the GO program that would combine preparatory work in understanding culture, an immersion experience in a crosscultural environment (domestic or abroad), and then [post-travel] coursework to reflect and integrate the skills learned.”
Going Beyond Barriers
Though the GO program today is linked inextricably with a Susquehanna education, it was not initially without its detractors.
Immediate concerns revolved around access — financial and academic. Faculty worried that students of limited economic means would not be able to afford the GO requirement, while other faculty and staff wondered how their students would fulfill music, theatre or athletics obligations.
“These were all valid points faculty were raising,” Manning says now, “and the discussions surrounding how to overcome these challenges helped us build a better program that is all-inclusive.”
GO Short was largely developed for those students who are committed to on-campus activities. It allows them to fulfill their study-away requirement in a weeks-long excursion, rather than spend an entire semester away from campus in a GO Long program. GO Short is also a good fit for students who want more structure in a program with their own SU faculty.
In addition to length, GO Long and GO Short differ in that all of the financial aid a student receives on campus can be used while studying abroad for a semester. This is not the case for GO Short. To address financial need, the university dedicates nearly $1 million annually as financial aid for GO Short programs.
There also were concerns that a studyaway requirement could intimidate prospective students, says Chris Markle ’84, senior advancement officer, who at the time was director of admission.
“The questions we received most about GO were, ‘How can I afford this,’ ‘How can I fit this in with my sport,’ and ‘Do I have to do this,’ which came mostly from men and some firstgeneration students with limited travel backgrounds,” Markle says. “Although some families were skeptical, most students and parents seemed intrigued by and excited about the GO program.”
In the years immediately after Susquehanna made study-away a requirement, first-year enrollment grew at the university. Despite ups and downs across higher education in subsequent years, SU’s enrollment today is greater than when GO was implemented in 2009.
And in 2013, the program was recognized with higher education’s most prestigious international education award, the Andrew Heiskell Award for Internationalizing the Campus, presented by the Institute of International Education. GO is also ranked as one of the most popular study-abroad programs in the nation.
Where do we go from here?
Over the past 10 years, GO has grown from a handful of mostly pre-existing programs to more than 125 GO Long and GO Short programs on six continents. Ninety-five percent of SU students study in a foreign country, while the rest study elsewhere in the U.S.
Though the number of U.S. students who study abroad continues to rise, there are still challenges.
Manning says GO is in need of additional endowed funds — such as the newly established Rebecca Shade ’54 Mignot Scholarship, which supported its first three beneficiaries on their GO Short programs last summer — to give the program long-term stabilization.
“We’ve done more to equalize opportunities than any other school I know of, but GO is still a significant financial commitment for the university,” Manning says, “It is, however, one that sets us apart from other colleges. We hear from students all the time that GO is the reason they came to Susquehanna.”
Alumni and friends of the university have certainly put their money where their passports are.
In 2018–19, 185 students received a free passport through Susquehanna’s alumni-supported Passport Caravan, another of the university’s ongoing efforts to remove the barriers that can stand between students and cross-cultural study. Passport Caravan is on track to provide 250 passports this academic year.
Caroline Woodward ’19 received her passport through the Passport Caravan. Having never traveled out of the country or even been on a plane, she made the most of her global opportunity and chose a semester-long GO program in Macau, China.
Did she get lost? Yes, more than once. She took the wrong bus. She couldn’t find her hostel. But she also stood on Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. She visited Tiananmen Square in Beijing. And she climbed the Great Wall of China.
Woodward’s biggest takeaway from her experience is less tangible than souvenirs or snapshots. She gained a confidence that only comes from repeatedly getting lost in a foreign country — yet always finding her way home.
“The absolute freedom I felt was unexpected and wonderful,” Woodward says. “I didn’t for a second believe that traveling by myself would be so personally fulfilling. I realized that I was indeed the biggest obstacle in my way.”
Alex Mitrenko ’05 was a foreign exchange student at Selinsgrove Area High School when he decided to continue his education at Susquehanna.
Students and alumni recount their study abroad experiences through our GO Program.