Orientation class prepares UH Hilo students for studying abroad

The class gives students the knowledge needed for the challenges of studying abroad.

By Alyssa Mathews.

Group of students in discussion at a table with assignment on screen "Article Review & Country Briefing Discussion."
Students preparing for their Study Abroad experience discuss upcoming host countries and share their findings with classmates in an interactive classroom discussion. Photos of class by Raiatea Arcuri.

In preparation for studying abroad, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo students who have been accepted into the Study Abroad program are required to enroll in a pre-departure orientation class to ready themselves for the cultural and social changes they might experience during their time in another country.

Todd Shumway
Todd Shumway

“This once a week, one-credit class prepares students for the cultural, academic, and practical challenges of studying in a different country,” says Todd Shumway, director of Global Exchange at UH Hilo.

Outbound students research the social climate, popular culture, traditions, and expectations of the country they will be travelling to. Students then share their findings with the rest of the class and learn about what to anticipate during their travels in an interactive way.

Carolina Lam
Carolina Lam

The class, taught by Carolina Lam, director of Global Education, provides students with the knowledge and mindset needed to be open to the experiences and challenges that come with studying abroad, whether it’s for a year, a semester, or just for the summer.

“Prior to having the mandatory pre-departure orientation course, students who were abroad were constantly calling, emailing or wanting to skype with us about the problems they were facing while abroad,” says Lam. “So as a way to alleviate the flow of student’s concerns and problems while abroad we designed the pre-departure orientation course as a way to help better prepare students before they left for their study abroad journey.”

“Studying abroad can be done by anyone who plans and stays through the course of not only completing the pre-departure orientation course, but also with the journey and process of the program.”—Carolina Lam, director of Global Education

Lam says studying abroad takes a lot of planning and consideration of the students to ensure that the credits they plan to take while abroad align with their academic career, but students need to also be prepared with the costs involved with studying abroad.

“Though students tend to select programs where they will pay UH Hilo tuition while abroad, they still need to factor in cost of living, travel expenses and personal expenses while abroad,” Lam explains. “Students who plan ahead are prepared with their finances, diligent with scouting and securing study abroad scholarships. We have had many of our students successfully secure study abroad scholarships ranging between a couple thousand up to $10,000.”

She adds, “Studying abroad can be done by anyone who plans and stays through the course of not only completing the pre-departure orientation course, but also with the journey and process of the program.”

Study Abroad opportunities

The appeal of studying abroad not only stems from the rich cultural experiences that travel has to offer, but also how a student’s time in a different country can be beneficial in relation to their major. At a recent orientation class, students talked about their upcoming studies abroad.

Lilia Anderson-Murray, a double major in marine science and communication at UH Hilo, is looking forward to attending James Cook University in Australia this upcoming school year.

“I hope to just meet a lot of different people from different places,” Anderson-Murray says. “The dorm that I’m going to stay in next year is all of the international students, so I’ll be able to meet people from other places. Since I’m a communications major, I’m hoping that by meeting all of these different people it’ll help me learn to communicate with different people of the world.”

Similarly, student Koa Kubera will attend the Hiroshima University of Economics to gain a more worldly perspective on education.

“The reason why I chose to go there is because a few semesters ago, some students from that university came to do a visitation in my English class,” says Kubera. “It’s a business school and they offer business management courses, and I’m also minoring in Japanese Studies, so I thought that this school would be the best option for me to explore international education, to see education from another perspective than an American one.”

“What pushed me to go further is because I got a scholarship to study abroad. Without that scholarship, I don’t know if I’d be here.”— Jojo Balagot, Study Abroad student who will be studying in France

Business major Polina Kozinskiy recognizes the program also provides students with the opportunity to attend prestigious universities that can help them make valuable connections within their major.

“I researched the school, and the University of Waikato is actually in the top one percent of business schools in the world,” says Kozinskiy. “[New Zealand’s] economy is also dependent on tourism, just like in Hawai‘i, and I want to be an entrepreneur in the world of business eventually, so I figured that going to that school and learning business in a different country and tourism over there could be really helpful in a future career.”

To help support their travels, scholarship opportunities are available to students who are interested in the program.

“I’m a freshman and a psychology major, and I’m going to the business program in France in the summer,” says Jojo Balagot. “The reason I chose to go to France was because I wanted to do something different from other freshmen—being that I’m a psychology major, going with business majors is a lot different. What kind of pushed me to go further is because I got a scholarship to study abroad. Without that scholarship, I don’t know if I’d be here.”

Inspiration from alumni

In addition to learning from their instructor and from one another, students in the pre-departure orientation class are able to learn from alumni of the Study Abroad program, who visit the orientation classes to share their experiences.

“This class is very interactive,” says alumna Mary Noble. “Carolina brings alumni to come and help facilitate the class discussion so we can share our experience and help them to prepare for what’s it like, what hardships or difficulties that they may have to encounter, just to prepare them to resolve those kinds of issues.”

Angela Laureta, another alumna as well as an advisor for the study abroad program, was able to go to two different countries for a semester each in Scotland and South Korea. After her study abroad experience, Laureta has been able to share with outbound students how the orientation class is necessary for their travels.

“The class is all about trying to find a solution of what to do if you are put in a difficult situation,” explains Laureta. “It gives the student insight.”

Laureta’s experiences also inspired Noble, a chemistry major, to apply for the program and travel to South Korea. “I was so inspired to go and experience their living culture and I was also inspired by Angela’s adventures, so I chose South Korea,” says Noble.

Alumni of the program agree that the study abroad experience helped to broaden their knowledge and gave them unforgettable experiences. It also helped them gain more clarity in what they wanted out of their majors and future careers by being able to look at the world with a different perspective.

Study abroad alumnus and history major Paul Fontenot traveled to Chile through the Study Abroad program. While there, he was able to talk to people who lived through historical events between the U.S. and Chile in terms of foreign policy. An essay he recently presented at a conference was on U.S. foreign policy with Chile.

“It was due to those experiences [abroad] and actually being where those events happened that I was able to learn about it,” says Fontenot. “When I came back, I understood what I want to do now after I get out of college and what I want to study. Without that experience, I don’t think that I would’ve been able to do that.”

Story by Alyssa Mathews, a freshman at UH Hilo. She graduated from Waiakea High School and is a UH Hilo Chancellor’s Scholar.

Photos by Raiatea Arcuri, a professional photographer majoring in business at UH Hilo.

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