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Studying abroad the experience of a lifetime

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 Don’t be surprised if you hear Spanish, Korean, Turkish or Thai being spoken as you walk the campus of Colorado State University-Pueblo.

The Center for International Programs, located on the lower floor of the Occhiato Student Center, has a lot to offer to students from other countries, as well as CSU-Pueblo students who may be interested in studying abroad.

Annie Williams, Associate Director of the CIP, recruits foreign students to study on campus.

“We try to grab the international student market. We utilize the same tools that they use on the domestic front,” said Williams, who started as a work study in the CIP in 1983.

Those tools include the attractiveness of a small campus, the high level of personal attention due to small class sizes, the low crime rate in Pueblo, and the unique financial aid package available to foreign students, according to Williams.

The CIP has approximately 126 students on the CSU-Pueblo campus enrolled in either the undergraduate level, graduate level or in the English Language Institute. The ELI grants “conditional acceptance” to students who meet all other requirements, but need to gain proficiency speaking English before they begin their university studies.

Although the CIP strives to match the enrollment goals of the university, Williams stressed the main mission of the CIP is to promote International Education for all, and the program is not all about the numbers.

“It’s not just getting bodies in the seats, we want to make sure we can meet the needs of each individual student,” Williams said.

These students come from all over the world, countries including Germany, India, South Korea and Turkey, among others.

“Our students are a good mosaic of the world,” Williams said.

Williams said any student in the US studying under a non-immigrant visa qualifies as a student in the eyes of the CIP.

Speaking a foreign language is not a necessity to study abroad. Several countries, such as Germany and Thailand offer classes taught in English, making the transition easier for most students.

Kevin Bernal, a 2008 social sciences graduate and current First Year Counselor at CSU-Pueblo, traveled to Thailand to study for a semester at a university CSU-Pueblo has an exchange agreement with.

“One thing students don’t realize is that through the International Program, students are allowed to pay in-state tuition while they study abroad,” Williams said.

All scholarships, financial aid and grants apply, and the credits for the classes taken will automatically transfer.

“When you take into account the amount of money an average student spends on living here, with an apartment and utilities, compared with Thailand where you spend $300 per month to live, you could actually save money,” Bernal said.

But the main reason to study abroad isn’t money, as Bernal explained, it’s the experience and the opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture.

“My trip to Thailand changed my life and channeled my energies into what I now know I’m supposed to do,” Bernal said. “It set everything up the way that my life was supposed to be set up. I found what I was supposed to be doing with my energies here on earth.”

Immersing yourself in a foreign language half a world away can be daunting. Knowing only a couple of phrases, Bernal said he found a way to survive and have a more than enjoyable experience.

“Anywhere outside of the living setting, people don’t speak English, so you have to learn the basics, like what kind of food do you have, hello, how are you,” Bernal said. “I totally immersed myself, I hung out with the Thai people, and did the things that Thai people do, not just the tourist things.”

“We send people to France, Italy, Germany, and Thailand,” Williams said.

“We have agreements in Mexico and China also, but they aren’t as active, mainly because you have to be proficient in native languages.”

Williams said she enjoys her career, and intends to stay right where she is.

“I travel around the world everyday without ever leaving my desk,” Williams said.

Bernal said he would love to return to Thailand, possibly to live.

“I’ve been back for 2.5 years, but the memories of people that I knew and places that I went are still so vivid,” Bernal said. “I hope to go back in early 2010, with the idea of living immersed in the culture. I can’t say months or years, but I hope to make it a second home.”