By Ryan Lee, Staff Writer
Earlier this month the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) became the first university in Maine to join the new Generation Study Abroad Initiative organized by the Institute of International Education (IIE).
UMF’s Provost Joseph McGinn and Linda Beck, a professor of political science and Chair of International and Global Studies, have been the main architects for this initiative at UMF. The goal of the university is to double the amount of students participating in the study abroad program by 2020 and to also see a ten-percent increase in enrollment for the Global Perspectives program. The goal is to expand the international experiences available at UMF and provide students with a better global sense and international perspective.
“The Global Perspectives program being developed, is going to involve short term trips to destinations in Canada,” said McGinn. “It will show students here at UMF what studying abroad can be like.” He added that a goal for the program is to, “ whet the appetites of students to study abroad.”
Beck also feels that this is the first step in allowing students to have a taste of the international experience. “If you are a student without a lot of time or money, this is an opportunity to have an international experience over the course of a weekend,” said Beck.
The first pilot for the Global Perspectives opportunity was a weekend trip that took place the first of November. Students traveled to Farmington;s sister city Lac-Megantic, Quebec. In 2013, a freight train carrying oil derailed causing an explosion and fires that claimed the lives of 42 in Lac-Megantic. Students had the opportunity to talk to and see how the town’s officials, citizens and environmentalist are dealing with the aftermath of the disaster. Students were able to see the resiliency of the community.
Studying abroad can be an enriching experience for students, the university wants to educate the student body on the positives of studying abroad, as well as addressing the financial aspects of going abroad, in hopes of gaining more student interest in these programs. “ We are working on an education campaign to get the word out on how affordable study abroad can actually be,” said Beck.
Dr. Beck, who studied abroad in France after college and Senegal during graduate school, believes having a strong international background is very important for students entering the workforce in the near future. “There is no doubt in my mind, that if I were getting my undergraduate degree right now, partaking in international experiences would be critical,” said Beck, “having this as a skill set, a strong international background, would be really helpful.”
McGinn also stressed the importance of an international experience for students. “I think the rate of students we send abroad is relatively low,” said McGinn. “It’s such an important component of a contemporary education.” McGinn spent two years studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland as a graduate student. He feel that it was one of his most valuable experiences as a student saying, “In some ways I think studying abroad is one of the most important things a student can do in their program.”