Debi Goldschlag has long been interested in studying foreign cultures, and her college career can attest to that.
The sophomore international business and supply chain management major took a gap year in Israel after graduating from high school, and she spent a winter break in China. So when she learned about the university's new student exchange program with the University of Jordan, she jumped at the opportunity, already planning out her schedule to accommodate the possibility of another semester abroad.
That exchange program and more are the products of university President Wallace Loh's eight-day trip to Israel and Jordan with Gov. Martin O'Malley at the end of April. Loh signed agreements to formalize partnerships with several universities in the Middle East as part of the university's larger vision of globalization and internationalization. The partnerships will lead to expanded research in entrepreneurship and innovation, Loh said, as well as cut the costs of studying abroad in the two countries.
Before, students like Goldschlag had to enroll directly in a foreign university and pay that institution's fees. But when the exchange programs go into effect in the spring of 2014, students from this university will be able to study in Israel or Jordan as exchange students at the cost of this university's tuition, Loh said.
"Getting courses approved, credits transferred — it's making the process a lot easier," Goldschlag said. "It's really important to create these opportunities."
The university plans to expand the exchange program concept to more universities, Loh said, in the hopes of increasing the number of students from the university who go abroad.
"Given the challenges faced by the Middle East, we need to understand the ideas, culture and ways of life in that area more than ever," said Ross Lewin, international affairs associate vice president.
For Goldschlag, the chance to study in Jordan would help her not only with her business classes but also with developing her Arabic language skills, she said. As an Arabic minor, Goldschlag said studying abroad in an Arabic-speaking country such as Jordan would help her master the accent and dialect.
"Going to an Arab country will, of course, increase your language skills," she said. "And you will get the cultural experience, which you can't really get in a classroom."
Exchanges help guarantee a high level of immersion in the host country's culture, said Graham Hettlinger, Education Abroad director. And demand for study abroad programs in the Middle East is rising as more students choose to study Arabic, he added.
"The Middle East is one of the most important regions in the world today, and it's vital that U.S. universities train students who speak Arabic fluently and understand the region's cultures," Hettlinger said. "Studying in the region is an essential part of that process, and Jordan is an ideal location for our students."
The research partnerships and exchange program possibilities fit in with the university's strategic goals of globalization and internationalization, said Charles Caramello, academic affairs associate provost and graduate school dean.
"Student access both while studying and after studying is absolutely necessary and will require an international perspective as we move through the 21st century," Caramello said.
Already, university officials are exploring and developing joint online courses to build on their vision of a "global classroom," Loh said. Students could meet face-to-face by way of video conferencing and could work on projects together, he added. Through a partnership with online course company Coursera, more than 85,000 students from around the world are already taking an entrepreneurship and innovation course developed by James Green, MTech director of entrepreneurship education.
Students have also participated in a business competition in Beijing. Ultimately, Loh said, he hopes to expand these competitions to other universities.
And later this month, Loh will travel to Vancouver, Canada, to meet with presidents and chancellors from the 24 universities that compose Universitas 21, a global research network spanning five continents this university hopes to join. That partnership could open up exchange programs in 16 countries — key to the university's goals of exposing students to the international community.
"Undergraduate students simply should not graduate from college without a semester studying abroad," said Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat peace and development professor, who accompanied Loh and O'Malley on the trip. "It's crucial to being prepared for the future."