USC Aiken Immerses Students in Cultural Classroom

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AIKEN, SC (02/26/2018) Before the spring semester even started, a dozen students from the University of South Carolina Aiken learned invaluable lessons during the institution's unprecedented exchange program with a counterpart in India.

"Throughout the [fall] semester, we prepared the students for the trip to a country no one had visited and a culture they had not experienced. No amount of preparation would have primed them for the culture shock some of the students experienced," said Dr. Melencia Johnson, assistant professor of sociology who joined the group on the trip to India.

"These experiences will help to open their minds to understanding the value of individuals with differing viewpoints than their own.

"Students who travel to countries that have different customs from our own seem to be more apt to continue to want to have those experiences. A few of these students excitedly announced at the end of the trip that they were planning to go abroad again as soon as they could afford to do so.

"That made my whole trip to know that they would continue to travel and are less fearful of doing so."

She believes every student should have the opportunity to participate in a study abroad experience.

"It would be amazing if we had scholarships set aside to supplement the costs for students who may not otherwise be able to travel abroad because of their financial situation," said the professor who took her first international trip in graduate school, which was funded by a group of family members and friends.

One future ambassador agrees with Johnson. Emily Ginas plans to go into international relations. She hopes to be an ambassador in Europe one day and stresses the importance of travel and exposure to different beliefs, traditions and ways of life.

"Learning about other cultures will only benefit one in the long run. It helps to make one into a better, more well-rounded individual," the history major said.

"It will help one understand that the world isn't just America. Many people are very narrow minded with this concept. Culture will enrich your brain and help you to look at the world differently. Being culturally aware will help take away hate toward different groups and ethnicities.

"It all starts with learning and being exposed to different cultures."

Through travel and her future diplomatic career, Ginas plans to embody the USC Aiken core value of being an engaged global citizen who makes a difference.

"I want to serve as an example to people and help as much as I am able to.

"Ambassadors are supposed to be a figurehead of the country they represent, and I would love to be in that position and change the way many foreign countries look at the United States," said Ginas who has traveled to the Caribbean, throughout the United States and to many countries in Europe.

"I would like to be the change. Even the slightest bit that I change will be the biggest accomplishment and a step toward a new outlook of the U.S."

In Their Own Words: The Impact of an Exchange Program to India

Ayanna Brown: "What I learned from the trip is diversity. Not just race, but cultural diversity.

"Materialistic things are not of such importance as they are here. Value, discipline, and respect is what is important to them.

"Going out the country is something everyone needs to do, because it will show you how itty bitty ole Aiken is just a tiny spec of what more is really out there. It will push you and force you to open your eyes to the world."

Hannah Jameson: "I learned about the actions that leaders in different communities are taking to better education for all girls which I really appreciated.

"I also learned to be confident in my own skills and abilities regardless of what others think.

"I also learned that you do not have to be "loud" to be a leader. There can be soft-spoken leaders who take charge when it is needed and who think of others before themselves. I learned this working closely with the other Indian students on the exchange program.

"Learning about other cultures offers a chance to meet amazing people and learn more about another way of life. It helps you to go out of your comfort zone and try new things. It broadens your world view and helps you be a more well-rounded individual."

Jalisa N. Pinckney: "Don't be afraid to step out of the norm.

"It's important to travel out of the country and expand your mind about different people and how they live.

"[There's] a lot that you do not know unless you experiences it firsthand."