International mission proves to be successful

Richard Spencer - Assistant, Professor of Criminal Justice

Richard Spencer – Assistant, Professor of Criminal Justice

Richard Spencer

A native Missourian, I have always believed in the old adage, “show me.” You could have counted me among the skeptical in 1996 when I learned that Missouri Southern was adopting an international mission. I recall wondering how a University, located in the heart of the Midwest, was going to successfully establish an international mission. You can now count me among the convinced and I’ll “show you” why.

Since the implementation of the international mission in 1996, 451 faculty members and 1,674 students have traveled and studied abroad. The curriculum at Southern has been infused with 125 new courses that are either international courses or courses with a predominantly international focus. The University has signed agreements with 16 international universities for student exchange. Southern has received national recognition for the unparalleled success of its international mission.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, you know you have been successful when others want to emulate you. Southern is now a model for other intuitions who are contemplating similar missions.

More importantly, however, than the previously mentioned trappings of success, are the lifelong changes I have observed in students who have participated in study tours. Having led study tours to Australia, New Zealand, London, Paris, Spain, Morocco, France, Italy and Costa Rica, I’ve had an opportunity to observe firsthand the positive changes in students’ behavior. My primary purpose for writing this “In Perspective” is to encourage both students and fellow faculty members to participate in the international mission — specifically, the opportunity to travel and study aboard.

The following are just a few examples of the lifelong positive changes I’ve observed among students.

Self-confidence is increased. For example, many of the students who have participated in the study tours I’ve led have never flown before. After flying, students feel a sense of accomplishment that results in greater opportunities. I recall a number of students who said they had hardly ever left their home town before coming to college and were very concerned about their ability to function in a different country and culture. Just days later, many of these students were successfully navigating around a major foreign city. Many students have remarked they feel so much more confident in their ability to deal with new situations and to meet new people after they have been successful in unique and unfamiliar circumstances.

Equally important has been students’ appreciation of the world as interconnected. After studying abroad, most students have a much clearer understanding of the issues that affect us all. While most students still believe the customs and traditions to which they have become accustomed in the United States will work best for them, they are more open to new ideas, new methods and are much better prepared to face the challenges they will face in a globally competitive world after studying abroad.

Presenting an arguably subjective viewpoint, the benefits of faculty study abroad are numerous. Obviously, the opportunity to study and travel abroad with University paying most or all of your expenses can be quite motivating. Secondly, it affords the opportunity to meet professionals within your discipline, discuss new ideologies and methodologies, which promote greater understanding of global issues.

On a personal note, I’ve made several lifelong friends while leading study tours. I often call upon these friends to help provide me with valuable perspective when I struggle to understand differing views concerning the role of the United States in world affairs.

In summary, I strongly encourage both faculty and students to participate in the international mission, particularly the opportunities to study in another country and experience another culture.

If you are a faculty member, remind students of the availability of study abroad grants from the Institute of International Studies. If you are a student, attend the study abroad fair sponsored each spring by the Institute and find out about all the study abroad opportunities offered in the up coming semester. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the number and variety of study tours to choose from. Select a tour, apply for a study abroad grant and prepare for a life changing experience.