Virginia Tech joined the International Student Exchange Program more than 35 years ago. Since then, the university has had nearly 350 students study abroad through the global membership network. Participation has increased considerably in recent years, with more students choosing semester-long exchange programs.

Compared with the previous year, the number of participants studying abroad through the program doubled in 2017-18. The Global Education Office, part of Outreach and International Affairs, projects an even larger increase this year.

“More and more students are recognizing the value of the International Student Exchange Program, because it offers hundreds of options that not only suit academic needs but are also immersive and affordable,” said Chelsey Watts, Global Education Office assistant director for partnerships and affiliations. “The recent growth in student exchanges better positions Virginia Tech to meet its goal of raising the overall study abroad participation rate by 2020.”

Watts serves as a member of the International Student Exchange Program Council of Advisors.

In 2017, Virginia Tech joined the Institute for International Education’s Generation Study Abroad, an initiative that aims to double and diversify the number of U.S. students studying abroad by the end of the decade. Virginia Tech committed to increase its study abroad participation from 17 percent to 23 percent.

International Student Exchange Program alumni shared their experiences.

Cultural fusion study in Spain

Julia Monroe hikes to the Castle of Monteagudo, an 11th-century fortress in Murcia, Spain.
Julia Monroe hikes to the Castle of Monteagudo, an 11th-century fortress in Murcia, Spain.

Julia Monroe, of Alexandria, Virginia, a senior, received an International Student Exchange Program scholarship to study at the University of Murcia in Spain. Majoring in international public policy and Spanish and minoring in Arabic, Monroe was looking for an experience that melded her multiple interests. “The program allowed me to choose a unique region that was perfect for what I wanted to study. Murcia is a cultural fusion of Spanish and Arab culture, so I was able to take courses in both study areas,” she said.

Welcomed ‘outsider’ in Japan

Christine Nassar visits Nagoya Castle, one of Japan’s most important landmarks from the Edo period.
Christine Nassar visits Nagoya Castle, one of Japan’s most important landmarks from the Edo period.

Christine Nassar, of Falls Church, Virginia, experienced life in a foreign country for the first time when she studied at Chukyo University in Nagoya, Japan. Nassar, a senior majoring in international studies, described Nagoya as having few English speakers and even fewer who are non-Japanese. “At face value, I may have been ‘just an outsider’ to people in Nagoya, but when I made the effort to get to know them and the culture, I formed incredible relationships.” Nassar serves as a peer advisor at the  Global Education Office.

Rewarding peer-to-peer conversations in the U.S.

Students sitting outside of Squires Student Center.
Micaele Parker (right) sits outside of Squires Student Center with fellow exchange students during Global Education Exchange Orientation Week.

Micaele Parker, a student from the University of Technology Sydney, studied marketing management at Virginia Tech last fall. “I chose Virginia Tech for its culture and atmosphere. It has great facilities, spirited football games, and the perfect combination of hot and cold weather,” Parker said. She volunteered to speak at the Global Education Office’s Pre-Flight Orientation, a program that prepares Virginia Tech students for study abroad. “I found it very rewarding to offer suggestions and insights about Sydney and my home university.”

Catching Hokie spirit in the U.S.

Teona Zurabashvili poses in front of the waterfall at the Cascades in Pembroke, Virginia.
Teona Zurabashvili poses in front of the Cascades waterfall in Pembroke, Virginia.

Although, Teona Zurabashvili attended Virginia Tech for only one semester, she said she quickly learned what it meant to be a Hokie. “While I was in Blacksburg, I took advantage of my time by making new friends and getting involved in campus groups. The feeling of being a Hokie did not fade away after my exchange program ended,” she said. Zurabashvili is a mathematics student attending the American University in Bulgaria.

The International Student Exchange Program was founded in 1979 at Georgetown University and later became an independent nonprofit organization. The organization is now one of the largest study abroad membership networks in the world.

Students interested in learning more about program offerings should visit the Global Education Office website.

Written by Rommelyn Coffren and Rebecca Poutasse, a senior majoring in multimedia journalism