Monday, October 16, 2017

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Olivia Silva studied abroad in Spain and Italy and served as president of the Imperial Valley campus study abroad club, Aztecs Around the World. Olivia Silva studied abroad in Spain and Italy and served as president of the Imperial Valley campus study abroad club, Aztecs Around the World.
 


A World Away

More and more IVC students are seizing opportunities to study abroad and as a result, their perspectives and ambitions are changing too.
By Michael Klitzing
 

In California’s rural, sun-baked Imperial Valley, San Diego can feel like a world away. All IVC students are commuters, and most still live at home with their parents. Many have never been on a plane or traveled further than Los Angeles. The monuments of medieval Spain or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel might as well be on another planet entirely.

But thanks to efforts at the Imperial Valley Campus of San Diego State University,  that’s all changing.

More and more IVC students are seizing opportunities to study abroad and as a result, their perspectives and ambitions are changing too.

IVC fulltime lecturer Brett Kofford has led month-long study abroad programs for five years, taking Imperial Valley students to destinations such as Argentina, Spain and Italy. This summer, he travelled with a cohort of 24 students to Valencia, Spain.

He says the impact of study abroad on his students is as plain as the tears of joy on their faces.

“I always give my students some free time at the end of our programs to travel on their own, and one of my students went to Paris,” Kofford recalls. “When she saw the Eiffel Tower, she started crying. She couldn’t believe this small-town kid from Calexico, who grew up lower-middle class, was doing these kinds of things.”

Believing they can

Miriam Castañón, director of Student Affairs at IVC, is working to ensure that students start to believe that they can. Born in Mexicali, Mexico – a city located just six blocks from IVC’s Calexico campus, where she now works – Castañón began commuting to study in the U.S. when she was 5. So she understands first-hand the challenges IVC students face and the opportunity study abroad presents.

“It opens the world to them,” Castañón said. “Providing them with these opportunities exposes them to other cultures and languages and makes their academic experience more diverse,” Castañón said. “And if they don’t go abroad through the school on a study abroad program, they will probably not be able to go abroad at all.”

For the 2015-16 academic year, 59 IVC students studied in seven different countries – England, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, Spain, Italy and China –  in programs ranging from short summer or spring experiences to a full semester. All returned with more than just fond memories.

Taking the plunge

Hector Teran, who travelled to Italy last summer with Kofford’s program, believes his summer abroad changed him in ways not limited to the strong affinity for espresso he picked up. While soaking in the artistic masterpieces of Florence and reveling in the chic of Milan, he was experiencing something unfamiliar and profound – life somewhere other than under his parents’ roof.

“Since I still live at home, I kind of had to learn to become more self-sufficient and independent,” Teran said. “I became more willing to learn about everything. I’m more fearless.”

Olivia Silva never dreamed study abroad was an option for someone like her. In fact, it wasn’t until looking at her course catalog that she realized it was a requirement for her major – and even then she was unsure. She recalls timidly approaching her father with a question: Can I really do this?

“When I talked to my dad, he told me, ‘You chose to stay here, you’re saving money and you’re doing the right thing by going to school,’” Silva said with a smile. “I think that was kind of his way to let me go.”

And so she did – twice. Silva was so enthusiastic about her experience with Kofford’s program in Spain that she went to Italy the following summer. By senior year, she had become a full-fledged study abroad advocate, serving as president of the campus study abroad club, Aztecs Around the World.

Membership is growing as IVC students learn that a world exists beyond the familiar towns of this fertile valley. Beyond the winding stretch of a mountain highway. Beyond the bright lights of San Diego. It’s a world of endless possibilities.

For more stories and information about international opportunities at SDSU, visit Be International.