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By Jamie L. Freedman

Always wanted to spend time in Turkey, Australia, or Japan? Then make your first stop GW. The University is a gateway to the world, thanks to its extensive network of international exchange programs with partner universities.

Each year, GW students enjoy enriching academic and cultural experiences at participating institutions in more than 20 countries. In exchange, host colleges worldwide send students to GW, enhancing the internationalization of the GW community. It’s a win/win situation, says Donna Scarboro, assistant vice president for special and international programs.

Elliott School student Nick Consonery is an exchange student at Fudan University in Shanghai, China.

“Through our reciprocal relationships, GW undergraduate and graduate students study at overseas institutions as if they were students of those partner institutions,” Scarboro says. “Exchanges are challenging study abroad options for mature, independent students interested in an authentic experience at a foreign university. At the same time, international exchange students who come to GW add greatly to our classrooms, helping to challenge our thinking and serving as a positive force for intercultural understanding.”

Currently, undergraduates may enroll in exchange programs at more than a dozen partner institutions abroad, such as Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco; Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey; Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic; Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia; Deakin University in Victoria, Australia; Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea; Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan; National University of Singapore; Waseda University in Tokyo; Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea; Sussex University in England; and Institut d’etudes politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) in France. Global exchanges add depth to GW’s comprehensive slate
of study abroad offerings, headlined by all-inclusive study centers in Madrid, Paris, London, and locations in Latin America.

“Exchange was the original model for study abroad, and, in many parts of the world, remains the only model for study abroad,” Scarboro says. “University-to-university exchanges, which are often built on existing relationships among the faculty of an institution, are widely viewed as flagship programs. The partner institutions, in essence, claim kinship with each other, and everyone benefits in the process.”

In addition to undergraduate exchange partnerships, the University offers a wide variety of international graduate exchange options. GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs, for example, has flourishing exchange agreements with 14 universities worldwide, including the London School of Economics, Sciences Po in Paris, and the American University of Beirut, and hopes to forge several new partnerships in the near future.

Breeann Songer, MA ’05, encounters some friendly camels on a roadside in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia. After spending a semester as an exchange student at the American University of Beirut, she is now a Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh.

“The program brings a lot of great international students from top-notch institutions to GW for a year to study alongside our Elliott School students, and sends our postgraduate students to their universities abroad,” says Caroline Donovan White, MA ’99, the school’s associate director of international education, who administers the program. “To thrive in today’s international arena, successful professionals must possess knowledge of global and regional issues and a keen ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead in a multicultural environment. Our exchange program has, therefore, become an attractive recruitment feature of the Elliott School.”

The school’s graduate exchange agreement with Fudan University in Shanghai, China, figured prominently in Nick Consonery’s decision to attend GW. A master’s degree candidate in Asian Studies, Consonery received a David Boren Graduate Fellowship to spend the spring semester at Fudan. “It is one of the best schools in China,” says Consonery, who hopes to work in a China-related field when he graduates in 2008.

He says the experience has been extremely valuable. “My Chinese language classes are great, and I am learning much more than I would in the states just through simple exposure,” Consonery states. “I spend more than 20 hours a week studying the language intensively in the classroom with Chinese professors, so my language abilities are improving quickly.”

Consonery, who previously lived in Shanghai in 2002 and was thrilled to return to the city, says he’s enjoyed building close friendships with several Chinese graduate students. Above all, he knows the experience will make him more marketable. “Employers value time spent abroad learning about other cultures,” he says. “And with the Chinese economy growing at such a rapid pace, I expect there will be many entities looking to hire employees who can speak Mandarin and who are familiar with Chinese customs and cultures.”

Adele Waugaman, MA ’06, enjoys cycling through the streets of Paris during her semester at Sciences Po as an Elliott School exchange student.

Recent Elliott School exchange student Breeann Songer, MA ’05, says her semester at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, was definitely a career stepping stone. A Foreign Service officer currently working at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Songer received a Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship to study in Beirut in fall 2004. “I was fascinated with Lebanon’s rich history and culture,” says Songer, who concentrated in Middle East Studies at the Elliott School. “My experience in Beirut was top notch. I could not have gotten such a rich Middle Eastern educational, cultural, or social experience anywhere else. After living among the Lebanese people, I felt like I really understood Lebanon and its role in the complex Middle Eastern mosaic.”

Songer, who serves as staff assistant to Ambassador James Oberwetter in Riyadh, adds that her study of Arabic in Lebanon has proven useful in her career as a Foreign Service officer. She arrived in Beirut speaking “a little bit of Arabic” and made great linguistic strides during her exchange semester. “Successfully applying my fledgling Arabic skills during a trip from Beirut to Damascus crowned my study in Beirut,” she says.

Such also was the case for Adele Waugaman, MA ’06, who spent the spring 2005 semester at Sciences Po in Paris as an Elliott School exchange student. Waugaman, whose mother studied abroad at Sciences Po in 1968, heard French spoken around the house when she was growing up, but did not speak it. By the end of her exchange semester, she was competent enough in French to land an internship at Agence France Presse’s world headquarters in Paris, where she was tasked with translating from French to English newswire articles being filed by AFP bureaus worldwide. “The French journalistic style is quite different from its Anglophone counterpart, so the internship both improved my French vocabulary and provided a first-rate opportunity to practice terse writing under a tight deadline,” says Waugaman, who returned to GW to serve as editor-in-chief of the International Affairs Review, an Elliott School journal.

Waugaman, who concentrated her studies in U.S. foreign policy and international law, says that her time at Sciences Po was “a great value-added opportunity” that ranked high on her list of positive GW experiences. “I had never spent a significant amount of time in a non-English speaking country, so my semester in Paris really broadened my horizons.”

She says nothing compared to the feeling of waking up in the morning in her studio apartment in Montmarte and commuting to the Latin Quarter through the beautiful city. “I really enjoyed the physical and cultural environment of Paris,” Waugaman says. “I view my semester at Sciences Po as an equal component of my graduate learning experience, on par with the three semesters I spent here at GW. It was an invaluable experience that widened the view frame through which I see the world.”

Foreign exchange students to GW report that they reap similar benefits from their time in Washington. “Washington is the heartland of international affairs at the moment, so it was great to come to GW as an exchange student and experience the culture and atmosphere of D.C.,” says Warren Evans, an undergraduate international affairs major at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, who spent the spring semester at GW. “I had heard great things about GW and the Elliott School back in Australia, and I had a great experience there with lots of opportunities that would be hard to find anywhere else. My professors were just phenomenal, including Ambassador [Edward] Skip Gnehm, who was a former ambassador to Australia.”

Socially, Evans enjoyed the GW scene as well. “I met a lot of great people,” he says. “It was interesting to experience the differences between university life in the U.S. and Australia, where students typically live at home and commute to school. In the United States, university is the central focus of your life.”

Warren Evans returned home to Australia after spending the spring semester at GW. An undergraduate international affairs major at Deakin University in Melbourne, he calls his time at GW “invaluable both professionally and in terms of the many friends that I made.”

He hopes his semester in Washington will enhance his resume. “The Australian government is very close to the American government, so I expect that my experience at GW will be looked upon very well,” says Evans, who plans to pursue a career in foreign affairs in the Australian government. “I’ll certainly look back fondly on my time at GW, which was invaluable both professionally and in terms of the many friends that I made.”

Close friendships with GW students ranked number one with Spanish exchange student Xavier Miro, who recently returned home to Madrid after completing a year of studies at GW. “American universities are like huge families,” says Miro, who is studying computer engineering at the Universidad Autonoma of Madrid. “Your roommate, project mate, or neighbor becomes like your brother, sister, or cousin. At UAM, university students live at home with our families, so we don’t get that experience. Being with the same people 24 hours a day creates such strong bonds.”

Miro says “listening to English 24/7” greatly increased his English fluency. “I wasn’t sure how capable I’d be of getting high grades at GW, since English is my third language, but the final result was great,” he says.

According to Scarboro, international exchange students often gain fluency in the languages of their host countries. “University-to-university exchange students have to make their own way at their host institutions, which benefits them by giving them the chance to really experience what the lives and education of their peer group are and certainly maximizes their language acquisition,” she says.

“Given the tensions and challenges in the world, it’s important for American citizens to understand other parts of the world and for people from around the globe to have a chance to understand us,” Scarboro explains. “That’s the goal of international exchange, and it’s fundamentally essential to any educated person and to the better functioning of society. I’m very proud of our GW students who make the extra effort to become exchange students. They are very prominent emissaries to our valued partner institutions, and their counterparts from abroad greatly enrich our classrooms here at GW.”