Unfamiliar to Unstoppable!
In 2018, NOVA received one of nine institutional grants to provide international study opportunities for underserved students in the United States and abroad. Core funding is from the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund and its partner, the MetLife Foundation, as part of a public-private sector partnership between the State Department, Partners of The Americas, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, Embassies, corporations and foundations working together to stimulate new higher education partnerships between the United States and the rest of the Western Hemisphere.
The institutions are committed to providing access to short-term exchange and training opportunities in the United States and Latin America for students who lack the means to study abroad. The institutions were chosen due to their robust history of highly-effective international programs.
Here to There
Ten NOVA students received 100,000 Strong funding in fall 2019 to participate in a study abroad trip to the State of Acre in Brazil’s Amazon region. Through a partnership between NOVA’s Pathway to the Baccalaureate and the Office of International Education, these students took their required SDV course alongside Brazilian students from Instituto Federal de Educação, Ciência e Tecnologia do Acre or IFAC. The exchange provided an opportunity for students from both the United States and Brazil to share in academics and culture, and to experience differences in daily living between two countries.
The grant provided an opportunity for the students to take their holiday break to experience a new culture, without knowing the food, language, or any of the people. They gained familiarity with the Portuguese language, the Brazilian people, and had an opportunity to introduce their new Brazilian peers to a traditional American Thanksgiving. Most importantly, they gained an international perspective. Dr. Twyla Jones, the NOVA faculty lead and SDV instructor in Acre, said, “This was a time of discovery for both the NOVA and Brazilian students. They quickly understood that they had much in common, even though they lived in different countries.”
Nineteen-year-old Gladis Garcia, a Business Administration major at NOVA, said she would keep in touch with her friends from Acre. “We still text. I plan on going back to Acre to visit. They are so amazing that I can’t not go back.”
Study abroad experiences like these also provide a unique perspective for community college faculty. According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), community colleges in America enroll nearly 50 percent of all undergrads. However, community college students comprise less than three percent of study abroad participants nationwide. To internationalize the curriculum and to provide new perspectives in their classrooms, it is up to faculty to create unique opportunities for students who would not otherwise have a chance to study abroad.
There to Here
NOVA’s history and collaboration with CAPES, a foundation of Brazil’s Ministry of Education, has enabled students from Acre to study at community colleges in the United States as part of the Community College Initiative Program. CCI Acre Alumnus Thawan Martins illustrates the infectious nature of the international study. After completing his exchange year and returning home to Acre, Martins participated in a student panel at his university. He spoke about his time studying agriculture as part of the 2018-19 CCI program year at Kirkwood CC. During his program, he interned at the Iowa Equestrian Center and Kirkwood Tippie Beef Center. He played intramural volleyball and created a digital story about how his impressions of farm life in America changed as a result of his experiences working in agriculture in the Midwest. Afterward, he said, “I’m so glad I got to inspire and motivate students through the life lessons and lifelong skills I learned during my exchange year.”
Similar to the American students who welcomed them the previous year, Thawan and Instituto Federal faculty and staff were instrumental in providing a warm and welcoming environment for the NOVA study abroad group. They exposed NOVA students to a month’s worth of activities in just eight days. Students visited an indigenous tribe, learned about nature photography, experienced the elegance of Capoeira — a Brazilian martial arts/dance combination — created murals and shared meals, histories, and conversation. When the time came to say goodbye, the bonds created during this short visit were evident. The WhatsApp group chat that contained awkward pauses before the trip was alive and filled with inside jokes and reminiscences.
NOVA has a long-standing relationship with Brazil since 2011 when the College first learned of the Federal Institute System. Between 2013 and 2018, NOVA hosted nearly 450 Brazilian students, teachers, and professionals as part of the Brazilian government’s Scientific Mobility Program. The relationship with IFAC in the State of Acre developed as a result of one Brazilian faculty’s experience at NOVA. This was followed by a visit from an IFAC team led by their Rector in 2018 and a subsequent visit to IFAC led by two NOVA provosts, resulting in a formal institutional partnership and laying the groundwork for these academic exchange opportunities to occur for faculty and students.
Students and faculty are coming and going, with shared exchange experiences. In each case, a convert is made that promotes the limitless benefits of international education—stepping out of your comfort zone to teach and learn, make lasting friendships, and learn that the world is bigger than it seems on a 5-inch screen.