Chico State study abroad program stands out

CHICO — The study abroad program at Chico State has recently been honored as a top study abroad program.

According to a press release from Chico State, the Institute of International Education has recognized the university as being one of the most active and engaged United States higher education institutions in its category for participation in studying abroad. In its latest Open Doors rankings for the 2019 and 2020 academic year (the most recent year for which data is available), the Institute of International Education has ranked Chico State’s Study Abroad and Exchange program as tied at No. 5 in the nation, up two spots from last year, for master’s colleges and universities, with 59 participants studying overseas for a year or longer.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a recent gap in students studying abroad.

“We have had a pause in international mobility since the pandemic hit, but we are slowly but surely re-opening,” said Chico State study abroad and exchange program coordinator Ximena Ospina. “The health and safety of our students is foremost. We have a social responsibility with the countries and make sure decisions are not taken lightly.”

Ospina said that there are 30 Chico State students currently studying abroad and another 30 will embark for the spring semester. There is also a handful slated to travel for the January short-term program.

Some of the popular countries that students visit are Peru, countries in Western Europe, Thailand, South Korea and Japan.

Ospina studied abroad herself.

“I can speak from personal experience. I went to Chico state for undergrad and studied abroad,” she said.

Ospina also worked as a Sacramento State study abroad adviser.

“In my own experience, Chico State did an amazing job. It includes information sessions and makes sure information is shared out to students,” she said.

Ospina said that gradually the study abroad program is blossoming again.

“We’re very hopeful, the world is still struggling, but there are a lot more healings happening and more vaccinations. I hope that numbers get to 300 levels again and we have a slow reopening,” Ospina said. “We want to be intentional and cautious of how we reopen and make sure students are safe and healthy.”

Ospina said that Chico State does a great job in helping students to fulfill their study abroad goals.

“Chico State is set apart by its intentional and mindful programming, before, during, and post study abroad.”

Students that study abroad often return and work for the university as study abroad advisers or interns.

“They get paid positions for the front desk. They’re the ones that that do the information sessions. We have offices for students to come in and talk,” Ospina said.

Students studying abroad these days have to abide by vaccination and mask mandates.

“Some countries are more strict,” Ospina said. “Masks are required if indoors. Some countries are also more relaxed. We make sure students are protected. We don’t want them to be hospitalized.”

Ospina said her colleagues are a big part in making student’s travel a success.

“Dr. Jennifer Gruber, president of international and education engagement, did an amazing job; we wouldn’t be able to do this at Chico State without faculty. The advisers, financial aid representatives, registrar are all embedded in helping students study abroad,” Ospina said. “It’s such an academic opportunity. It’s a foundational experience for academic and professional development.”

The study abroad program also assists students coming to California from international waters.

“We handle students coming to California,” Ospina said. “We have international education and global engagement. We have one unit I oversee. We all collaborate.”

Ospina said that prior to students studying abroad, they should conduct a lot of research.

“It’s key for them to have a plan and be willing to embrace the unknown,” she said. “They should attend orientation and with the pandemic they need to be knowledgeable about everything as far as vaccines and mask mandates and quarantines. They also need to have a level of respect for that country’s culture and practice safety and kindness. They are there as a guest and should be culturally minded and sensitive.”

Chico State senior and animal science major Vanessa Mendoza studied abroad in Costa Rica in spring 2019. She now works as a program assistant/front desk clerk in the office of International Education and Global Engagement.

“The Chico State study abroad program was extremely helpful in the study abroad process. They really went out of their way to make sure that I went abroad. There were quite a few obstacles prior to my departure and I almost did not go abroad because I did not think it was a possibility, however, the study abroad advisors really took the time to guide me and assure me that it was the right decision for me,” Mendoza said in an email interview.

Prior to studying abroad, Mendoza made sure to take advantage of the university’s study abroad preparation.

Mendoza said that the Chico State community is what sets it apart from other schools’ study abroad programs.

“I think that is why a lot of students go abroad because our campus community does an amazing job at helping students and reaching out to students to participate in their programs/events. Students, especially first-generation students, seek connections on campus that allow for meaningful connections to happen which gives them a sense of belonging-ness. That plays a big part in student success and participation specifically in the study abroad department,” she said.

Mendoza embarked on her study abroad program before the pandemic hit, so she didn’t have to worry about vaccine and mask mandates.

“However I do know that currently in Costa Rica there are strict protocols, for example, people cannot be out on the streets late at night or else they will get fined. They are also allowing certain people with license plates to drive on certain days. … It is fairly confusing, however, the best way to describe it is that they are taking serious precautions for the protection of the public,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza has some solid advice for students looking to study abroad.

“I would advise students to seek discomfort, don’t be your own limitation, live in the moment and live your “Pura Vida” like how they say in Costa Rica,” she said.

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