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International Programs Office Puts Campus on the Map

November 24, 2008

UC Merced is going global. Actually, our campus has been global almost since day one, with an impressive array of faculty, staff and students hailing from all over the map – and an equally impressive list of academic collaborations with foreign universities.

But the creation of the Office of International Programs, and its Educational Abroad Program, enables UC Merced to better serve its population.

Playing an integral role in making UC Merced a comfortable home away from home for international students and faculty, the Office of International Programs is also responsible for serving as the one-stop resource for students and faculty embarking on work or study abroad.

Director Rebecca Sweeley straddles both sides of this mission. She is charged with crafting and proposing a five-year plan for the internationalization of the university.

Sweeley must consider the multiple facets of sending students and faculty abroad, serving the needs of international students and faculty on campus, maintaining and expanding international opportunities for students and faculty, and establishing a working center that facilitates collaboration with foreign universities. 

“We’re here to connect students and faculty to the wider world of the international community,” Sweeley said.

EAP Peer Counselor Tavia Sobouti applauds having these resources at UC Merced. A psychology major who studied in Coventry, England, for the first half of 2008, Sobouti appreciates the difference this will make for students.

“When I was applying, I went through the coordinator at UC Davis, and I worked really closely with my advisor to make sure the classes would count,” she said. “It was nerve-wracking. It is so much better to have face-to-face interaction. The responses are more immediate. There are so many more people students have access to who know about the program and are available to help.”

But for students to take advantage of available resources, they have to know what exists.
“We are trying to get the word out that we are here on campus and available to help students,” said Education Abroad Coordinator Craig Harmelin. “We’re hoping that all students will be drawn to EAP opportunities, primarily undergraduates.”

Harmelin coordinates informational meetings and distributes literature from the UC Office of the President, enticing students with the sheer number of possibilities when planning a semester or even a year overseas.

There are about a dozen UC Merced students now studying abroad, with even more showing interest in future opportunities.

Bioengineering Professor Ariel Escobar knows the value of studying abroad. A native of Argentina, the senior faculty member has worked and studied all over the globe.

“Moving around the globe enriches you, because every culture is different,” he said.

Vivienne Richardson can relate. The history major and EAP peer counselor studied for six months in Hong Kong.

“It is an amazing city, and the culture is so different from what I’m used to,” she said. “It took a while to adjust … but was well worth it. In the process I learned so much about myself.”

What Sweeley hopes students understand is that the reality of studying abroad isn’t the challenge, it’s getting the courage to try.

“Students can do it,” she said. “Do not self-select out. Just come to the office. Just let yourself explore.”