CSUN professors present benefits of studying abroad

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Two professors at CSUN discussed the positive aspects and cultural benefits of the California State University’s study abroad International Programs Nov. 16 in the University Student Union Flintridge Room.

The presentation was held as part of International Education Week, hosted by CSUN’s Student Development and International Programs across campus last week.

Akiko Hirota, professor of modern and classical languages at CSUN, and Tom Spencer-Walters, chair of the Pan-African Studies Department, discussed at the lecture different opportunities a student could have if he or she chooses to study aboard.

Hirota discussed the School of International Liberal Studies at Waseda University’s study abroad program in Japan as one popular option CSU students have.

“It is important to study abroad anywhere because it is a life-changing experience,” Hirota said. He said most Americans believe that the United States is the top country in the world in many respects, but in many ways it is not.

“We (Americans) are becoming too arrogant,” Hirota said. “Japan is not a paradise. It (is) just that you go and see people live differently, and that makes you think about the assumptions you have.”

The estimated cost to study in Japan is $22,100, according to a CSU IP brochure.

“Twenty-thousand dollars a year in Japan is a bargain,” Hirota said. “I know it’s not cheap, but it’s a bargain. Paths will open up with a $20,000 investment.”

One of the requirements to study at Waseda University is one year of Japanese language and one course of Japanese culture. She said she advises students to take at least three years of Japanese because mastering the language takes longer than French or Spanish.

Between 30 and 35 CSU students will be selected for the 2006-07 school year at Waseda, Hirota said.

Tom Spencer-Walters, Pan-African Studies chair, centered his presentation on study abroad opportunities in South Africa and Ghana.

The IP will introduce a study abroad program in South Africa and Ghana this year, Spencer-Walters said. About nine years ago, an IP was set up at the University of Zimbabwe, but the program was suspended because of political unrest.

“It took three years to get the programs on board,” Spencer-Walters said. “You have to go through the (CSU) trustees to get their approval (and) that could take a whole year.”

Spencer-Walters said the benefits of studying in Africa include opening up new ways of looking at the world.

“America puts you in a comfort zone,” Spencer-Walters said. “Once you step out of this protective cocoon, then you realize how much of the world you have been missing. That’s the reason why it’s always a rewarding experience for students to travel to other countries,”

The two IP in South Africa are at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth. The IP set up in Ghana is the University of Ghana in the city of Legon, Spencer-Walters said.

When the Zimbabwe IP previously existed, there were four female students, one of which was an African American who was nervous about her forthcoming experience, he said.

“It’s understandable because traveling from South Central to South Africa is quite an experience,” Spencer-Walters said.

He further explained the benefits of traveling outside of the country.

“People who have never been out of their safety net tend not to realize what a wonderful world is out there. But once you do, you begin to take advantage of it,” he said.

However, Spencer-Walters said he feels that some stereotypes keep individuals from wanting to explore unknown territories.

“Undeveloped, war, diseases, poverty. You have all these conditions everywhere in the world,” Spencer-Walters said. “In Africa, it’s more pronounced because (the citizens) don’t control their own political destinies. As a result, people are constantly interpreting Africa to the world, other than the Africans themselves.”

He explained another benefit of a U.S. study abroad program presence in Africa.

“This is the reason why I passionately believe in the study abroad (program) and I really want to help to promote these programs because students become the ambassadors of change when they have the opportunity to see for themselves,” he said.

All courses taken in IP are CSUN transferable. Eligibility requirements and important dates for IP can be found on the CSU website.

Mo Jahanagard, sophomore political science major, was at the presentation specifically for the Japan study abroad information. However, when people started leaving after the first presentation on Japan was finished, he decided to stay.

“It turns out what he said was music to my ears,” Jahanagard said. “It changed my perspective. I’m thinking about doing more research on the South African program.”

He said that after listening to the Africa presentation by Spencer-Walters, he realized that Africa is not covered accurately or completely by the news media.

“It appears that if we actually go to Africa, we’ll see something different than what we imagine in our minds. (The presentation) made me think outside the box,” he said.

Marta Rezvani-Lopez, an IP campus coordinator from Student Development and International Programs at CSUN, has been with program for 10 years and feels IP is beneficial because it can change a student’s attitude about life.

“When students study abroad, they come back (as) different people,” Rezvani-Lopez said. “Their self-confidence is way high. They can make better decisions, (and) their life changes. They give themselves a competitive edge over everybody else,”

Rezvani-Lopez is especially excited about the Africa IP because it is in its first year, and organizers are advertising the programs throughout campus.

“We have workshops and send out letters to students. Students are doing classroom visits to let (others) know about the programs. We’re doing faculty contacts with departments like anthropology or Pan African studies to target specific students who may be interested,” she said.

Rezvani-Lopez said she will sometimes have 17 appointments in one day just to speak with students interested in IP.

“All these years I’ve been here, not even one time I’ve had a student saying something negative.”

Cynthia Ramos can be reached at cynthia.ramos.838@csun.edu.