30 students pose for a group photo with Madrid in the background

Thirty students took part in Mesa College’s Madrid study abroad program, which included exploration of museums and nearby United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites Toledo and Segovia.

The world is open for study abroad

September 12, 2023 | San Diego Community College District

Mesa College re-launched its travel program with two trips over the summer, and City College will join by offering educational explorations at the start of 2024.

Students who took part in Mesa College’s Florence study abroad program got show off their pasta making skills during a cooking class.
Students who took part in Mesa College’s Florence study abroad program got show off their pasta making skills during a cooking class.

After a break during the COVID-19 pandemic, study abroad programs are resuming at the San Diego Community College District, giving students the opportunity to learn a new language and experience a different culture.

Julliana Samson, a San Diego Miramar College student, was one of 30 students who traveled to Madrid over the summer as part of a study abroad program offered by San Diego Mesa College.

“I managed to meet a lot of people and make connections,” she said. “Meeting all those people widened and broadened my perspective. I learned how people do things differently outside the U.S.”

Samson wanted to take the month-long trip to Madrid beginning in June because she had a part-time job as a retail clerk and couldn’t communicate with her customers who spoke Spanish. “I felt some responsibility to learn the language and culture,” she said.

Students on the trip learned about the language, history, and politics of the country, toured museums, took a cooking class, and visited nearby Toledo and Segovia – both United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites.

“Students immersed themselves in the Spanish culture and language and learned what it’s like to live with a family in Spain,” said Dora Schoenbrun-Fernandez, international education coordinator at Mesa College, who also noted program directors are seeing more student interest than compared to pre-pandemic years. A winter 2023 program in Peru was fully recruited but cancelled just weeks before departure due to political unrest in the country.

In addition to the trip to Spain, Mesa College also offered a summer trip to Florence in which 37 students participated in programming focused on art history and fashion. The experience included visits to the Pitti Uomo Trade Show Fair, an internationally renowned menswear trade show, and a tour of the Polimoda Italian fashion school. Students also traveled to Milan to visit a fashion trade fair and took a day trip to Prato to tour a sustainable textile factory specializing in recycled wool.

After a hiatus of its study abroad programs, Miramar College is excited to offer its own unique experiences in 2024 to the Philippines and London during intersession and summer respectively. The efforts to revitalize the study abroad programs have been headed by the new Chair of the International Education Committee, Laura González, Vice-President of Instruction Michael Odu, and Dean of the School of Liberal Arts Lou Ascione.

The vision of Miramar College is not only to offer study abroad opportunities, but also broaden the scope of international education at the school through international student support, as well as curriculum, professional development, and programs that help develop global awareness.

“We are aware that many community college students don't feel as if study abroad is a possibility for them and we want to assure them that with a little planning, it absolutely is!” González said.

Other upcoming study abroad programs will include January trips to Buenos Aires, Argentina, organized by Mesa College, while San Diego City College will offer a trip to Barcelona. And, in summer 2024, Mesa College will offer two programs: in Paris with studies focusing on languages studies, conversations and compositions in French, and Madrid which will include Spanish languages studies.

For her travels to Spain, Samson was able to cover most of the program costs when she was selected to receive $3,000 through the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program. The program, operated by the U.S. Department of State enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad. Both Mesa (in 2021 and 2022) and City (in 2022) colleges were recognized as among the top U.S. colleges and universities to send scholars abroad, which opens up study abroad opportunities to historically underrepresented student groups.

Samson, who plans to graduate from Miramar College next year with associate degree for transfer in psychology, said the trip to Spain was her first time traveling abroad. She said her ability to understand Spanish has greatly improved, and she now has the itch to explore other countries.

She said she would urge any other students interested in traveling abroad to sign up for the program.

“As I experienced new cultures and languages studying abroad, I became a living testament that studying abroad is not a privilege confined to prestigious institutions, but rather an amazing experience that’s accessible to any committed student,” she said. 

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