The Office of Intercultural Outreach Programs at UNC Charlotte was established more than 20 years ago to welcome students from other countries who want to study abroad.
A division of the English Language Training Institute in the Office of International Programs at UNCC, it offers a variety of comprehensive, short-term, customized programs for undergraduate and graduate students in any field of study.
Recently a group of 20 students at Sophia University, in Tokyo, visited Charlotte to take part in a science-based program at UNCC. During the three-week program, the students toured the university’s science laboratories and visited some of Charlotte’s science-related businesses, including Electric Power Research Institute, BASF and Microsoft.
The students also participated in a lecture and seminar series led by accomplished UNCC faculty members; they encouraged the students to think critically and to contribute to group discussions about current challenges in the fields of biology, chemistry, robotics and engineering.
Another key component of this cultural outreach program includes intensive English language studies as it relates to science vocabulary, with an eye towards improving the students’ communication skills.
“The goal of this particular program (with Sophia University) is both cultural and English language immersion,” said IOP Director Jessica Siracusa.
Excursions to Charlotte’s Mint Museum and Historic Latta Plantation in Huntersville provided memorable cultural experiences, while shopping for the latest fashions at Concord Mills, touring Charlotte Motor Speedway and cheering for the hometown Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena provided unique opportunities for the students to relax and have fun.
“We were a bit surprised by how welcoming and friendly the people are here,” said Kensuke Hanajiri, a 20 year-old biology major from Japan. “In Japan, people don’t usually say hello to people they pass in the street.”
While some students were homesick for their friends and family as well as traditional Japanese cuisine, many expressed their fondness for the Queen City, and America in general, and are looking forward to coming stateside again.
For the past few years the two universities have collaborated on these programs, and this August the Sophia University and CIEE-J (Council on International Education Exchange-Japan) plan to send a group of students to take part in a program titled Intensive English Immersion Summer Program. Another frequent partner of UNCC has been AIM Overseas, a study-abroad provider that works with Australian university students who want to travel overseas. This past January, two student groups from Australia took part in a three-week business and education curriculum program. It included visits to Charlotte area businesses as well as internships at local schools.
While many American universities with international studies programs typically focus on sending students abroad or accepting students as part of their student bodies, UNCC’s IOP approach is unique. The university consults with the sending institution to design specific, short-term curriculum training programs for visiting students. Students get a certificate to show they’ve finished the program.
UNCC is also exploring opportunities to assist area businesses that have a large population of their workforce that comes from other countries. The goal would be to provide professional development for employees and employers through the use of workshops and lecture and seminar series.
“Another side of our work is applying for federally funded grants,” said Siracusa, 33, of Charlotte. “We’ve hosted Fulbright Scholars for pre-academic programs to get students ready for college work (and) things that might involve English language or other preparatory classes.”
For Siracusa, who herself studied abroad while a student at the State University of New York at Albany, the most rewarding part of the work she and her colleagues at UNCC perform is being able to provide quality educational and cultural experiences for international students.