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How to Foster a Global Mindset at Your Community College through the Fulbright Program

International students pose outside DCCC.

We spoke with Suzanne LaVenture, Director of International Education and Faculty at Davidson County Community College (DCCC) about how the Fulbright Program helped transform the semi-rural North Carolina community college, cultivating a global outlook on campus. 

Davidson County Community College (DCCC), situated among green rolling hills and forests an hour away from Charlotte, NC, is a standout among community colleges across the United States for its level of international engagement. Beginning with the college’s first engagement with the Fulbright Program, DCCC has benefited from a range of grants, institutional partnerships and global connections.

“Fulbright brings the world to DCCC,” says Suzanne LaVenture, Director of International Education & Faculty. “By having international students and Fulbright scholars on our campus, it gives all our students a chance to meet people from all over the world and learn about different cultures.”

To this day, the Fulbright Program remains a central pillar of DCCC’s international engagement activity. In August, two new Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTAs) will arrive on campus, bringing the FLTA total to 14 over the past eight years. Lately, the institution sent three campus leaders abroad with the Fulbright International Administrators Seminar program, and between 2008-2010 DCCC welcomed three Fulbright Scholars in Residence, two from China and one from Macedonia.

Breaking New Ground

DCCC’s international engagement accelerated in 2010, when Suzanne’s role was created. The college now offers four to five study abroad trips each year, helping U.S. students experience new cultures and countries.

“I think many community colleges don’t know about the opportunities that the Fulbright Program offers, or think that the return on investment of putting all the time and effort of filling out the applications will not pay off for them,” Suzanne says. “However, I would encourage interested community colleges to be persistent and apply for available Fulbright opportunities.”

Furthering the reach and impact of the international exchange network, DCCC does not work in isolation, but rather engages with a range of partners to support study abroad.

“One of the primary challenges for community colleges in promoting study abroad opportunities has been getting enough students interested to make [a given program] financially viable,” Suzanne says. “That is one reason why we often work in consortia.”

As Suzanne explains, the college recognizes that DCCC students face barriers to participating in study abroad. Many students have families, jobs and other responsibilities that prevent them from going abroad, so the college does what it can to lessen the burden of costs and scheduling conflicts. Hosting visiting Fulbrighters at DCCC has brought the world to the campus, and also serves as a living advertisement for study abroad.

Fulbright: a Springboard for Other Opportunities

For the past six years, the college has worked with the Institute of Study Abroad Ireland to run a popular spring break trip to Ireland. More recently, DCCC received capacity-building grants from the State Department to develop study abroad programs in Guatemala and South Africa, first implementing a service-learning program in Guatemala targeted to nursing students in coordination with Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC).  While developing these programs, DCCC tailored these initiatives to be compatible with the Department of State’s  Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship program, to provide extra incentive for students to consider studying abroad. The Gilman Program provides scholarships to U.S. undergraduates with financial need for study abroad, including students from diverse backgrounds and students going to non-traditional study abroad destinations.

Recently, DCCC applied for the same capacity building grant to develop a study abroad program with Central Piedmont in South Africa. The program will offer service learning opportunities for nursing and allied health, and zoo and aquarium science students, and aim to recruit minority male students.

Along with Guilford Technical Community College and Forsyth Technical Community College, DCCC has also twice received a State-Department-managed 100,000 Strong in the Americas grant to develop a study abroad program in Argentina along with Universidad Nacional de Villa María. U.S. students have gone to Argentina for the past two years, and Argentinian students visited the DCCC campus in March.

To encourage more students to think internationally, DCCC launched the Scholars of Global Distinction program in fall 2013. To earn this distinction on their transcript, students must complete 15 credit hours of globalized courses, attend eight Passport events, and must have a global experience – either study abroad or a local-global experience. As of the past semester, 100 DCCC students completed all the requirements, becoming Scholars of Global Distinction.

While DCCC was the first community college in North Carolina to start Scholars of Global Distinction, now more than 20 colleges offer this program. To implement programming, the college works with World View at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, which serves as a convening organization for colleges in the state interested in global learning.

Leveraging On-Campus Ingenuity

Much of DCCC’s international activity outreach and coordination has occurred through innovative, in-house support – ensuring broader awareness on the campus of DCCC’s international programming, while also reducing program costs. DCCC’s digital media instructor and his students created a video to promote the college’s study abroad programs, and a computer instructor and his students created a database for Suzanne and her team to track students in the Scholars of Global Distinction program.

DCCC’s efforts to promote study abroad by its students comes full circle in the personalized support it continues to provide its visting Fulbrighters.  FLTAs not only benefit from a warm welcome by DCCC administration – which includes a campus buddy system to ensure Fellows are able to more easily integrate into campus life, but also  benefit from DCCC’s ingenuity.  The campus provides the FLTAs accommodation at the energy efficient “Green House,” a historical house across the street from the campus renovated by DCCC very own heating and air-conditioning students. In addition, DCCC allows eligible FLTAs to use of one of the college’s fleet of vehicles to get around during their award period. Finally, Suzanne has invited each cohort of FLTAs to her house for Thanksgiving and acted as their cultural liaison throughout the duration of their time at DCCC.

Given the barriers that DCCC overcame to cultivate a global outlook on campus, Suzanne believes that if DCCC can internationalize, other institutions can too. “I always say that the moral of the DCCC story is that if we can do it, anybody can,” she says.

Coming Home: Using Fulbright Connections to Change Language Education

Durdona Karimova, 2014-2015, Fulbright FLTA from Uzbekistan, hosts a workshop on innovative language teaching techniques at Tashkent State University of Law, Uzbekistan

Education runs in my family. My grandfather was a school principal, my grandmother was a recognized and awarded teacher, and my mother is a language teacher, whose ability to win the interest of bored students fascinated me as a child.

While the tendency to value sons more than daughters was common for some parents in Uzbekistan, my father valued and fostered equal educational opportunities for my siblings and me.  I took full advantage of this familial support, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English and German Philology with Honors, and a Master of Arts in English Linguistics from the Uzbek State World Languages University.

When I began teaching, I introduced using puppets to a gender-imbalanced group of students who were difficult to work with. Puppets turned out to be an innovative way to work with challenging students, as it allowed them to “depersonalize” their actions and view them from a different (puppet’s) perspective.

Exchanging Cultures, Building Friendships: A Fulbright Thanksgiving Story

A candid moment from the Thanksgiving dinner at the home of Lecturer Thuy-Anh T. Nguyen (second from left) with fellow Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants

Editor’s note: Did you celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States or abroad this year as a Fulbrighter? We’d love to hear your story! Send us a note or share it on social media with #Fulbright.

A Bangladeshi, an Italian, a Thai, an Indian, an elderly Filipino couple, and three Vietnamese people sat down for dinner at a Vietnamese-American house. This may sound like the start of a clichéd joke, but this was exactly what my first-ever Thanksgiving feast looked like.

This year, thanks to the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program (FLTA), I had the opportunity to be in the United States for this one-of-a-kind celebration. I had heard and learned about Thanksgiving through the Internet over the years, and I grew up looking at sumptuous Thanksgiving meal illustrations in Archie comics; where the biggest, juiciest turkey and other mouthwatering foods were served.

From Arabic Student to Anthropologist: Fulbright Full Circle

Gwyneth Talley, 2015-2016, Morocco (third from left), at the opening of a festival in Zagora, Morocco with Amal Ahmri and her tbourida troupe.

My Fulbright journey began with one distinct moment: My first Arabic class in 2009 where Tunisian Fulbrighter Beligh Ben Taleb, a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA), taught me my Alif–Baa–Taas (or my Arabic ABCs) at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. It was Beligh’s first trip to the United States, first Ramadan in a non-Muslim country, and first American teaching experience. He would set a high bar for all the other Fulbright FLTAs to follow at the University.

I remember the class vividly, full of heritage speakers, curious students who wanted to work in government, and a few looking for a challenging language. Beligh took teaching Arabic in stride and encouraged us to participate in cultural activities by cooking traditional Arab meals, helping us translate songs, and dressing us up in Tunisian clothes. Aside from learning how to introduce ourselves, the most memorable phrase I remember Beligh teaching me was: “I ride horses.”

In the summer of 2010, I took my first trip to Morocco to study Arabic and French. I stayed with a horse training family, which would lead me to my graduate research in anthropology. While learning Modern Standard Arabic, my host family immersed me in Moroccan dialect and culture–specifically their horse culture. I also met the incoming Fulbright FLTA assigned to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Othmane Zakaria. He was born and raised in the city of Meknes where I was staying for the summer. We shared tidbits about our cultures, and I warned him to buy his winter coat in the States because Nebraska winters were not like winters in Morocco.

Christiane Hilaire: The Transformative Impact of a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant

Christiane Hilaire

Christiane Hilaire, 1958-1959, Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from France (photo courtesy of Bloomfield Hills High School and Penny Shaw)

During my sophomore year at Bloomfield Hills High School in Michigan in 1959, I was blessed by having Christiane Hilaire, a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant, as my French teacher. While I was already fascinated by the peoples and cultures of the world, as I had had two pen pals, in Germany and Japan, since age ten. It was Christiane, though, who inspired me and helped me center my education and career toward an international focus.

For an adolescent of fifteen, Christiane, at age twenty-three, became an easy role model. I was captivated by her unique looks and her mannerisms that appeared different and intriguing to me. I loved the way her English had that certain charm of non-native speakers who often translate directly from their native language.

She shared with her students not only the grammar and vocabulary of our textbooks, but personal stories of the village where she grew up. She taught us French songs, showed French movies, and explained history and customs that were meaningful to her. In short, she had a talent for teaching.

In the spring of that year, I read an article in Holiday Magazine about the city of Grenoble, France, including its university. I immediately wrote for information about programs. In the package that arrived, I was notified that I had already been accepted! What a thrill for a sixteen-year-old. It was an intensive French language program for international students. I asked my father if he would pay for me to go to Grenoble for my freshman year of college and he agreed!