Northwestern State University has been a beneficiary of a burgeoning international student population as cultures and ideas from all over the world have to come Natchitoches.
But now, American students are beginning to plan semester-long placements at universities in places like France, Spain and Colombia.
Four students completed semesters and the Universite d’Angers in France with another finishing a semester at Fundacion Universitaria Colombo Internacional in Colombia.
Travis Mitchell, a hospitality management and tourism major, walked past the famed Notre Dame Cathedral a few hours before it was damaged in the April 16 fire.
“That was really crazy because we saw them doing construction, and there was a long line to get in,” said Mitchell, a North Carolina native who decided to take French in high school. “We said we’d just come back tomorrow, but obviously that didn’t happen.
“We still got to travel around Paris and see the Louvre and other parts of France. It’s pretty easy to travel to other countries as well, and I went to Italy, Ireland and Spain during the semester.”
NSU students will continue to study abroad this fall with two going to Universidad de Alicante in Spain, one heading to Shenzhen University in China and another to France.
Marcus Jones, NSU’s Executive Vice President for University & Business Affairs, said NSU students have studied at international universities for a week or a month, but there’s a growing trend on campus for local scholars to stay for full semesters.
“We’re really encouraging our domestic students to go abroad,” said Jones, who’s played a leading role in expanding NSU’s international student population. “We’ve had a host of students coming to Natchitoches from these countries, and now we’re starting to reciprocate with students of our own.”
NSU has bilateral agreements with schools in nine countries.
Telba Espinoza-Contreras, director of the International Student Resource Center, said more students typically favor short-term programs.
“We’re trying to create more of these opportunities,” Espinoza-Contreras said about short-term visits. “We currently have two language summer programs available to all NSU students to study for four weeks in either France or Mexico.
“We have other opportunities that are a week or 10 days available for specific majors.”
Since 2015, 23 NSU students have participated in study abroad programs, including the three students set for this fall.
The cost of international travel can seem prohibitive to some students, but Jones said NSU is offering small stipends to help offset those costs.
“Most of the students we attract to NSU don’t come from wealthy families, and it’s hard enough to pay tuition let alone be a part of a student exchange,” Jones said. “If a student is able to get airfare taken care of, they are more likely to participate.
“We don’t have a whole lot of stipends, but we want to promote what we do have. What I’ve found is if we help those students go abroad for a week exchange, they are more likely to go back for a longer period of time.”
Mitchell, who took classes in English although some students completed their coursework in French, said these stipends significantly reduced the cost of airfare.
“That helped a lot, and I strongly recommend that anybody that has an opportunity or a chance to study abroad to do it,” Mitchell said. “I’ll remember the people there most because the majority of those people are going to be outgoing people who want to have new experiences.
“Even if you’re not a people person, this experience forces you to talk to new people and learn a lot about different cultures.”