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Summer abroad: Maymester and summer trips take CCU students to international locations

June 20, 2018
Kevin Hughes displays a CCU flag at the Gveleti waterfall in the mountains of Georgia during a summer school program in June.Eight CCU students participated in a summer school program in Georgia with 12 Ilia State University students and earned graduation certificates.Eight CCU students participated in a summer school program in Georgia and visited the tallest mountains in Europe while there.

“Not everyone in the world has the luxury of feeling secure at home.”

This was the most important thing Coastal Carolina University senior political science major Madison Nowlin learned during a weeklong summer school program that took her and seven other students and three professors to the country of Georgia June 7-15.

The program, a collaboration between CCU and Ilia State University in Georgia, is the brainchild of assistant professor of politics Mariam Dekanozishvili, a native of Georgia.

When she came to CCU in 2014, Dekanozishvili wanted to create a cooperation with Georgian universities, and met last summer with some higher education universities there. A close friend of hers is a head of administration of Ilia State University, and together they came up with the summer school initiative, Dekanozishvili said.

“This summer school is a pioneering program,” she said. “This is the first time CCU is cooperating with a Georgian university.”

According to Darla Domke-Damonte, associate provost for global initiatives, there are two different ways students can participate in global studies. One is short-term programs that operate on a normal cycle, like Maymester trips, which more than 200 CCU students participated in this past May. The other is faculty-led conferences, research, competitions or service learning trips that take place throughout the year. The summer school program was the latter; however, both are facilitated and supported by the Center for Global Engagement at CCU.

This year’s school focused on the multidimensional nature of the concept of security and how to apply the understanding of the security concept to the Eurasian region that is full of different perspectives. Students took part in discussions and workshops throughout the week, but also observed camps of internally displaced people and met with government representatives from the Ministry of Defense Training Center and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“These kind of experiential learning opportunities of a global scale are what truly expose students to various cultures and peoples and widens their horizons,” Dekanozishvili said.

The eight CCU students who attended are all political science or intelligence and national security studies majors, and they were joined by 12 Ilia State University students. Nowlin said those students did speak English so they were able to converse well, though a few of the CCU students could also speak limited Russian, which is spoken informally among all Georgians. The primary language in Georgia is Georgian, spoken by more than 86 percent of the population.

In addition to the workshops and meetings, the students were able to visit various historical and cultural sites, including the Gveleti waterfall in the tallest mountains of Europe, a 5th century monastery, the Georgian-Russian border, and the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

Nowlin was impressed by the beauty of the country’s mountains, saying they were taller than anything she had ever seen and had ice on the tops, even in June.

“They had this way of making you feel small and insignificant, but in a good way,” she said.

All the students received graduation certificates at the end of the program. The eight CCU students are: Monica Fulmer, Hannah Hamelman, Kevin Hughes, Brandon Johnson, Nowlin, Connor Seay, McKinley Sharpe and James Williams.

Dekanozishvili plans to offer the summer school again next year jointly with Ilia State. She said they are working to develop a memorandum of understanding with Ilia to facilitate further collaboration, and she would love for Georgian students to be able to come to CCU in the future.

“The summer school turned out to be very successful program, and we hope that cooperation will continue and deepen with Ilia State University,” she said.

Nowlin agreed, and said she’d jump at the opportunity to attend the summer school next year if she’s able. It wasn’t just the country’s natural beauty and rich culture that had an impact on her.

“Twenty percent of Georgia is occupied by Russia, and Georgians live in the shadow of constant threat,” she said. “While there, I began to understand what fighting for freedom really means.”

Nowlin’s experience sums up what Dekanozishvili was trying to accomplish with the summer school – a unique experiential learning opportunity, cultural exchange and joint learning.

“Within that week, our students not only obtained new perspectives regarding Georgia and the wider Eurasian region, but also forged new friendships with their Georgian peers,” she said. “This constitutes a true global experience.”

Other professors who led study abroad trips during Maymester also speak highly of the experiences students have when traveling internationally.

“It’s like opening a window to a world they didn’t know existed,” said Jose Luis Mireles, senior instructor in the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies. “You can talk about culture and language in a classroom, but when you live it, it’s a totally different thing.”

Mireles, along with associate professor Yun Sil Jeon, took 21 students to Costa Rica during Maymester, where they were immersed in local culture, literature and language. The difference between traveling abroad as tourists and studying abroad as students is vast, Mireles said.

“The students learn to see themselves from a different perspective,” he said. “They learn how [other people] see Americans and why, and they start realizing, ‘This is how people see me. This is who I am. I thought I was this other person but, actually, this is how I am perceived by people outside the United States.’”

More than 200 CCU students traveled to 17 different countries on three continents this Maymester, including Scotland, the Bahamas, Italy, Austria and Iceland.

Learn more about study abroad at coastal.edu/studyabroad.

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