You’d think with more than 300 different study abroad offerings in more than 70 countries at UNC, most interested students would be able to find a program well suited to them.
And for the most part, that’s true, but there are a significant number of students that, for various reasons, don’t see themselves going abroad or don’t feel like it’s possible and have no idea how to even go about it.
But thanks to a generous and innovative gift from alumna Maribel Carrion, a new program has been launched to change that.
Aimed at first-year students who are generally underrepresented in traditional study abroad programs, Global Take Off: Puerto Rico is an interactive, four-day, faculty-led trip to Puerto Rico over fall break and includes pre-departure orientation sessions as well as post-return reflection sessions designed to give students an introduction into global travel and cross-cultural learning. The hope is to encourage students to take that first critical step in a lifelong journey of global engagement. Chosen from 252 applicants, the inaugural class includes 12 students, 10 from UNC and two from Fayetteville State University whose Honors Program is collaborating with UNC in this effort.
For Carrion, it’s a journey home that she gets to share with 12 incredible students. “I am so excited to help launch this effort and introduce my home, my culture and my history to these students,” Carrion said. “Travel opens your eyes and your mind to so many opportunities, ideas and perspectives that you just can’t get in any other way, and I can’t wait to see its impact.”
Carrion was inspired to create this program by her late sister, Marisela, who was also a UNC alumna and spent her junior year abroad in Spain. “It opened her to new ways of looking at the world and that experience impacted her throughout her life…and changed the trajectory of mine,” Carrion said. “When I got the opportunity to live and work in Mexico and later in Singapore, I jumped in with both feet, and that’s what we want these students to feel empowered and comfortable doing even as they step outside their comfort zone.”
“We were totally blown away to see 252 applications for 12 spots in the first year of this program, so clearly there is a huge need and interest in a shorter, more manageable introduction to global citizenship among our students. I hope others can see how important these experiences are to preparing our students to make a difference in the world and will join me in supporting these efforts. It takes so little to make a huge impact, and something like this is very doable.”
>> Maribel Carrion
As part of their preparation for Global Take Off: Puerto Rico, students must obtain their passport. Though not required to travel to Puerto Rico, a passport represents a gateway or bridge to other opportunities and provides the freedom to take that next step. According to Carrion, just going through the process of obtaining a passport is a valuable learning experience, and they are good for 10 years, so students leave UNC with this tool in hand.
Carrion said she also wanted to help remove barriers that often deter or prevent students from travel abroad beyond financial need. Often students simply don’t know about the options, or have experienced cultural road blocks or even language barriers that discouraged them from considering it. Institutional barriers are also contributing factors like delayed progress to graduation. Global Take Off: Puerto Rico aims to break down these barriers and broaden horizons.
“We were totally blown away to see 252 applications for 12 spots in the first year of this program, so clearly there is a huge need and interest in a shorter, more manageable introduction to global citizenship among our students,” Carrion said. “I hope others can see how important these experiences are to preparing our students to make a difference in the world and will join me in supporting these efforts. It takes so little to make a huge impact, and something like this is very doable.”
Global Take Off: Puerto Rico is offered by the Center for Global Initiatives, in collaboration with the Institute for the Study of the Americas and the Sonja H. Stone Center for Black Culture and History as well as the Fayetteville State University Honors Program. In addition to Carrion’s private gift, this trip is also made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education National Resource Center program.
The University plans to follow these students to see how their early global travel experience influenced the trajectory of their collegiate career. Did any pursue a more in-depth, for-credit study abroad experience? Change their major or add a major or minor with a global focus? Pursue alternative graduate, service or research work?
Carrion said the possibilities are endless; and this is a good place to start.