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Exchange programs prepare students for global economy

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Students from Middlesex Community College visited Tiananmen Square during a trip to China.
Organizing effective international exchange programs for community college students requires a great deal of planning, but the benefits are worth it, according to community college leaders.
 
They say students with international experience are better prepared for careers in an increasingly globalized economy and are better suited for collaboration within an internationalized workforce. 
 
A broader perspective
 
Many two-year college students haven’t been outside of the U.S., and international exchange programs “open their eyes to other cultures,” said Pat Demaras, assistant dean for international/multicultural student programs at Middlesex Community College (MCC) in Massachusetts.
 
The current trend for community college exchange programs is two-week trips rather than full-semester programs, Demaras said. Shorter trips are more affordable and easier to manage for community college students with families or jobs.
 
Five MCC nursing students and one student studying diagnostic sonography are slated to travel to Peru May 27 as part of a class focusing on health education. The students plan to teach residents of a small mountain village about nutrition and healthy habits and take classes at a Peruvian university.
 
The students have learned about the history and culture of Peru before the trip and will do a capstone project when they return, Demaras said.
 
An upcoming two-week trip to Belize, for students in STEM fields, such as engineering and life sciences, will focus on the ecology of coral reefs.
 
The college pays for students’ airfare and their housing abroad, and students contribute $500 and pay some of their other expenses. Students who want to take part must pass a rigorous selection process that includes an essay, interviews and two letters of recommendation. Demaras said it’s important to select “the best students, because they really represent the college.”

Start with faculty
 
Geoff Bradshaw, director of international education at Madison Area Technical College (MATC) in Wisconsin, suggests community colleges interested in developing an international exchange start with faculty and work with regional consortia or other organizations rather than trying to organize it on their own.
 
MATC takes part in a two-week professional development program at North Karelia College in Finland for faculty in the college’s woodworking program organized through the Illinois Consortium for International Study and Programs.
 
Some of MATC’s international programs grew out of Wisconsin’s “sister state” relationships with the German state of Hessen and Chiba prefecture in Japan.
MATC’s international programs for students include a three-way exchange program focusing on global tourism with Käthe-Kollwitz-Schule in Marburg, Germany, and  South West College in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. About 40 German and Irish students are coming to Wisconsin in June for two weeks, and the U.S. students will go abroad next summer.
 
MATC students specializing in the Japanese language and culture can take part in a semester-long exchange program with Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba.
 
Having an international exchange program “requires a level of understanding and trust and a matching of the curriculum,” Bradshaw said. That’s why it’s important to start with a faculty exchange, allowing instructors to understand how the curriculum is taught at the foreign institution and figure out the logistics.
 
“The internationalization of the college needs to be a holistic effort,” Bradshaw said. “There has to be a synergy with the internationalization of the curriculum and the institution along with the exchanges.”
 
Exchange programs are important because “students need to understand the interdependence of the U.S. with the rest of the world so they can be responsible global citizens,” Bradshaw said. They also need to “be successful in a business world that is globally competitive, and they need to be able to work in teams in a complex, international work environment.”
 
Lay the groundwork
 
Alice Madsen, dean of instruction for professional technical education at Highline Community College (HCC) in Washington state, advises community college leaders contemplating foreign exchanges to spend time building relationships and trust before bringing people overseas.
 
“If you only have two weeks somewhere, a lot of the time is taken up figuring out everyone’s intention,” she said.
 
Madsen and her colleagues did a lot of advance work before sending HCC personnel to Mataria Technical College in Cairo. When the three HCC instructors and two administrators got there last fall, “they knew us. They knew we were serious,” Madsen said.
 
HCC is helping Mataria build industry connections and create employment opportunities for students with Egypt-based companies involved with industries such as automobile manufacturing, bathroom fixtures and fast food.
 
The exchange is part of the Broader Middle East and North Africa-U.S. Community College Initiative funded by USAID and administered by Higher Education for Development.
 
“We’re learning a lot about the way teaching is done in the Middle East,” Madsen said. Mataria has large classes, many lectures and little technology. The HCC instructors helped Mataria’s faculty adapt more innovative teaching methods, such as small-group instruction.
 
The recent political revolution in Egypt has delayed the project, as Mataria was shut down for two and a-half months and Internet communications were disrupted, Masden noted. But seven Mataria instructors are still planning to come to a summer institute at HCC.
 
Pooling resources
 
A handful of HCC students are taking advantage of study aboard programs this year through a consortium established by 14 community colleges in Washington state. Individually, the colleges wouldn’t have enough participating students to make full-quarter exchange programs feasible, said Kathleen Hasselblad, HCC's director of international programs and grants.
 
Among HCC’s short-term study abroad programs this year is a trip to Belize focusing on environmental studies coordinated with Hillsborough Community College in Florida.
 
Hasselblad also believes community colleges gain many benefits through hosting foreign exchange students. Currently, 20 students—from Brazil, Cameroon, Ghana, Indonesia, Pakistan, and South Africa—are studying at HCC as part of a program funded through the U.S. State Department Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs and administered by Community Colleges for International Development​.
 
These students take classes, volunteer in the community and intern with local businesses. They also help HCC reach out to immigrant groups in the community and speak to local high school and middle school students about "the value of community college and what their families sacrificed so they can pursue an education,” she said.
 
Having Community College Initiative students at HCC not only enriches the campus culture, but it brings international visibility to the college, Hasselblad said.
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