Latoya Thompson felt breathless. For an hour, she sat fascinated as Fontbonne University assistant professor of fashion merchandising, Rogene Nelson, described the study abroad trip to England she took during her own college years, a trip full of fashion, history and opportunity. When Thompson stepped onto an elevator after class and found herself staring directly at a flier for Fontbonne’s own London exchange program, she thought it might possibly be a message from the universe.
And she jumped at the opportunity.
Most students plan study abroad trips a year or more in advance. For Thompson, the endeavor was a whirlwind. She began planning in the spring of 2009, and with the help of Gail Schafers in Fontbonne’s study abroad office, she found herself in London by the beginning of the fall semester.
“Students can go anywhere in the world,” said Schafers, the director of both Fontbonne’s study abroad program and the English as a Second Language program. “We can find a program that fits their needs.”
In Thompson’s case, Fontbonne already had a relationship with the American InterContinental University in London specifically for fashion merchandising majors like her.
“I think all students should get a chance to take advantage of studying abroad,” Thompson said. “I met so many amazing, talented people, and I got to travel over the weekends to places like Paris, Milan and Venice. The professors encouraged us to ‘go to London and get inspired,’ and so I saw art museums, fashion museums and cathedrals.”
Thompson lived and studied in London for 10 weeks, but Fontbonne students have countless choices when it comes to studying abroad. According to Schafers, the university has three basic options: long term programs, usually lasting for a semester to a year; summer travel; and shorter, faculty-led programs that generally last 10 days to two weeks.
Dr. Gale Rice, chair of the department of communication disorders and deaf education and professor of speech-language pathology, and Dr. Margaret Gray, professor and director of special education, have lead a study abroad program
For the past several years, Rice and Gray have taken a qualifying group of seniors and graduate students to Canterbury Christ Church University in England. These students, all enrolled in education, special education, deaf education, early intervention in deaf education, or speech-language pathology programs, attend seminars by faculty and students at the English university. Conversely, Canterbury Christ students also travel to Fontbonne as an exchange site. The students have a singular opportunity to look at their disciplines from a new perspective, and also experience the history and culture of another country.
“It’s a heck of an adventure,” said Schafers about studying in a different country. “We live in a global economy; people should have a global experience. Studying abroad gives you cross-cultural experiences and challenges. It makes you more independent, and you really utilize different skill sets.”
For Matt Tuggle, 21, that meant learning to adapt. The senior business administration major traveled to China for eight days in March 2009 with a group from Fontbonne. He stood a head taller than most of the locals, didn’t understand the language and brought a cell phone that, as it turned out, didn’t work. But he remained flexible, and instead of feeling defeated, he thrived on a new challenge.
“Mike Seibold talked me into it,” he said, referring to a Fontbonne OPTIONS and business instructor and organizer of the trip. “It ended up being amazing — it was one of the neatest things I’ve done in college.”
The group of 11 students, staff and faculty, including Tuggle, Seibold and Schafers, traveled to Beijing, Shanghai and Xian. Tuggle snapped hundreds of photos, capturing the architecture of the cities, the streets the group explored and the people they encountered during their week away from the states.
“Do it because you have the opportunity now and you may not later,” Tuggle advised students considering studying abroad. “Take the shot while you have it.”
Students take that shot for a variety of reasons, said Schafers.
“Some like to travel — it’s an exciting adventure. Certain people have an investment in specific subjects. For example, they travel to Florence to study art. Some people want to improve their resume, especially for grad school. Others want to challenge themselves.”
Regardless, she said, Fontbonne tries to make sure that the study abroad programs are affordable and accessible. The university recently entered into an agreement with St. Mary’s University College in Twickenham, London, a historic campus that welcomes international students.
“We’re hoping this is something we can offer students that’s low-cost,” Schafers said. “Some programs can cost $15,000, but the St. Mary’s program costs around $10,000. And federal financial aid can be used.”
Schafers ticks off some final words of encouragement for any would-be adventurers: “You don’t have to speak the language if you go to a different country because you’ll have class in English. Studying abroad is about the same cost as tuition at Fontbonne. Some students are intimidated, but that’s why we work with program providers — if you have the initiative, you can do a lot on your own, but you’ll always have someone to rely on.”
Read more about studying abroad through Fontbonne.
Read more about Fashion Merchandising at Fontbonne.