By: Mollie Lastovica
The push for international experiences across college campuses is higher than ever before. Subsequently, students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and ALEC Department are encouraged by administrators, faculty and even their peers to study abroad.
The COALS Study Abroad Information Session will be held Jan. 29 in AGLS 129. Students interested in or curious about studying abroad are encouraged to stop by the informational between 5:30 and 7:00 p.m. to learn about the 25 plus study abroad programs offered through the college, four of which are made available by the ALEC department.
University studies—leadership junior Jessica Guerra wears a second hat as Coordinator for the COALS Ambassadors and Mentors for Study Abroad. Guerra’s interest in traveling abroad was ignited through her work on a class project.
“A group of my classmates and I raised funds to build a well in Uganda, where I eventually was able to travel,” Guerra said. “After that level of exposure to the world, my interest in traveling grew exponentially. Since studying abroad combines travel and school, I decided it could be something I would love.”
Guerra was drawn back to Africa in the summer of 2012 when she traveled to Namibia with a study abroad group led by Associate Professor and Associate Department Head for Undergraduate Programs Tracy Rutherford, Ph.D., and Professor and Senior Scientist for the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture Gary Wingenbach, Ph.D.
“Although we stayed in Namibia the entire time, we traveled across the whole country, staying in hotels in cities, on a couple university campuses and even in the desert,” Guerra said. “After my study abroad group returned to Texas, I traveled to South Africa for an extended stay with students at the University of the Free State who visited A&M earlier last year for a leadership conference. Because I hosted one of the girls while she was here, I became very close with the group and during my two weeks there I helped the students work on creating a leadership alumni organization.”
Her experiences abroad have both challenged Guerra and encouraged her to seek new opportunities that push her as an individual.
“I learned that I have a lot more to learn,” Guerra said. “Although I considered myself an open-minded activist before, studying abroad proved to me that working on becoming the best version of myself will be a constant part of my life. I learned to observe more, to assume less, to truly look at a situation from all perspectives and to do so with a sincere intention to greater understand positive change and the people involved in that change.”
With her new position as Coordinator for the COALS Ambassadors and Mentors for Study Abroad, Guerra works under Program Coordinator for the Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture and ALEC Lecturer Cathryn Clement to organize the student ambassador group that serves to inform their peers about studying abroad.
“We put studying abroad on students’ radar, assist those going through the process of applying and preparing for a study abroad trip and welcome those students upon return to Texas,” Guerra said. “We also host events and workshops that advocate students’ active involvement in making the best of their study abroad experience. As Coordinator, I serve as the liaison between Cathryn and the Ambassadors. Cathryn gives the group its main direction and I organize our team’s efforts to achieve our goals and vision.”
The ambassadors have committed to actively engage and interact with students in the college by setting up informational tables on the first floor of AGLS from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the last week of every month to answer students’ questions about going abroad and even sponsor a re-entry program for students returning from study abroad experiences to help them assimilate back into the American culture. They are also preparing a workshop that will focus on financing a study abroad trip to take place during this semester and the group will have a booth at the Agricultural Career Exposition on Feb. 6 and at Aggieland Saturday Feb. 16.
Guerra is adamant in encouraging students to take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad and believes that the experience is of benefit to all who participate.
“As students, I think it is natural to stay in our college bubble consisting of school, work and friends. I also think it is our duty as individuals to challenge ourselves to grow as much as possible during these four years so that, in addition to immersing ourselves into the world intellectually, we may do so with a worldly view,” Guerra said. “Not only does studying abroad expand your character and worldly view unlike any other experience and make you stand out to future employers, but it also makes the best of your time spent here as a college student. You are young, go travel and see the world as much as you can.”
Students interested in studying abroad are encouraged to attend the Jan. 29 informational or meet with the ambassadors directly. The group has walk-in appointments in AGLS 515 every day of the week. To learn more about study abroad opportunities in the college, visit the website here.
Guerra notes that there are important deadlines fast-approaching including application deadlines of February and March 1 for spring break and the maymester and April 1 for summer and fall. The university-wide study abroad scholarship deadline is Feb. 1 and the International Agriculture Academic Scholarship application through the college is due March 1.