Passport to Self-Discovery
Visitors to a new country face many firsts: smells, flavors, sounds, and even weather patterns combine to form a sensory puzzle you have to unscramble slowly.
For hundreds of college students each year, the best way to tackle that puzzle is not as a tourist but as a resident. Pairing travel with higher education makes the place you wake up to each day feel a little more like home—or just homey, while embracing the unfamiliar in a whole new way. It means building a more complete life somewhere else, giving more of yourself to an experience, and often facing long-term language barriers and the lasting absence of familiar comforts, whether food, music, or events.
“It means staying long enough to develop a familiar routine, adapt to its rhythms, and gain a truer understanding of the culture,” said Jennifer Gruber, associate vice president for International Education and Global Engagement (IEGE). “As worldviews are continually reduced to the size of a phone screen, the ability to adapt to new environments, be reflective and empathetic, and learn from others who have different cultural, social, and linguistic backgrounds are all-important skills for personal and professional growth.”
Since 2016, approximately 1,600 Chico State students have studied abroad—numbers that rank the University in the top 20 sending institutions nationwide, according to the Institute of International Education. The academic year prior to the pandemic saw 333 study abroad participants, with Italy, Spain, Thailand, United Kingdom, Germany, Peru, and the Netherlands topping the list of 200 destinations across 35 countries. While travel trends remain impacted by COVID-19, this last academic cycle saw 153 Wildcats venture abroad, signaling the start of a new upswing.
Meanwhile, in the opposite flight path, Chico State welcomes dozens of new international students every semester for an immersive experience in the United States. Annually, more than 250 students from 54 nations are enrolled at the University. Most plan to complete the entirety of their degree here, while some have chosen Chico, California, as a study abroad destination—enriching their lives and the local community simultaneously.
“Our job is to love other peoples’ kids while they are here, just as other universities do for our students,” said Tasha Alexander, a coordinator for international and scholar services. “We’re here to offer a home base for them and provide a space to connect with people, campus, and get settled so that they can do the great things they’re capable of. Also, we learn so much from our international Wildcats—they bring fresh new perspectives and teach us so much about ourselves and their home countries and cultures.”
Making these exchanges possible are the dedicated staff at IEGE, which provides a network of support services that cover just about every logistical and practical concern pertaining to student travel. For departing students, IEGE helps with everything from getting a first-time passport to assistance with scholarship and internship applications, as well as academic and travel advice, and language training programs. Similarly, international students are welcomed long before they’ve arrived in California, with guidance on the lengthy (and intimidating) visa application process, planning for immunizations, coordinating travel, navigating housing, and course selection.
For each and every student, the team checks in throughout every stay to make sure our Wildcats have everything they need. Often framed as an “experience of a lifetime,” these educational journeys have a profound, long-term effect, teaching students as much about themselves and their own homes as the places they visit.
“When students embark on global exchanges, they sow seeds of connection, compassion, and mutual respect around the world and in our backyards,” said Ximena Ospina, a study abroad and exchange coordinator with IEGE. “Through this, global citizens and transformative leaders are developed.”
Click to read six stories from students who’ve gone abroad or come to Chico State from afar.