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Skidmore’s global links expand

“Skidmore students want to engage with the world,” says Cori Filson, director of Off-Campus Study and Exchanges. “They don’t see international education as a check mark on their to-do list; they integrate it into their entire academic career and pursue it after graduating, too.”

Take Sam Schultz ’13, who first studied in China in high school. He spent a Skidmore semester fine-tuning his Mandarin at Beijing Foreign Studies University, then followed up with a summer internship at Sihan-Fushi, a clothing manufacturer and retailer in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province.

This past fall, the double major in Asian studies and international relations launched Summer Destinations, a Beijing-based summer-camp placement service. He provides Chinese families looking for a camp in the U.S. with a search utility that makes recommendations based on their child’s interests. It was Schultz’s $20,000 first prize in Skidmore’s Kenneth A. Freirich Business Plan Competition that enabled him to create and kick off a five-year plan for his company.

Then there’s Salome Egas ’14, a dance-theater major from Ecuador. Through Skidmore’s SEE Beyond program, she spent last summer documenting the dances, stories, and fables of the indigenous people of her native country, in addition to teaching at the Dance-Theater School in her hometown of Quito.

Egas, who has plans for grad school in the performing arts, credits Skidmore with “encouraging students to choose from a wide range of educational options, allowing them to both rediscover old passions and uncover surprising new ones.”

Johane Simelane '13
Johane Simelane '13, center, thinks of Skidmore as his second home.

Schultz and Egas provide a window into Skidmore’s extraordinary growth in globalism. In the past decade, the percentage of international students has quintupled from 1% to 6%, with another 6% holding dual passports. Students now hail from 45 states and 60 countries, and Skidmore has quickly become one of the more diverse colleges in its peer set.

More and more students are studying off campus, too.In 2001 Skidmore ran just four of its own overseas programs, while today Off-Campus Study and Exchanges administers eight programs, including the London First-Year Program and faculty-led travel seminars. In 2001 only 30% of students studied abroad, but today it’s 60%—placing Skidmore second among U.S. baccalaureate colleges for the number of students studying abroad for at least a semester and 10th for the total number of students studying abroad. In all, students can choose from 136 programs in 47 different countries across six continents.

Filson’s office now facilitates not just college study but internships, work, and volunteer opportunities, where, she says, “students interact deeply with people of other cultures, tackle issues that are new to them, and help create real solutions to international problems.” Her staff has close relationships with Skidmore’s academic departments and Career Development Center.

Johane Simelane ’13 grew up in Swaziland, where a quarter of the population is infected with HIV/AIDS, the highest rate in the world. He wanted to help.

When no agency would support his idea of conducting focus groups on Swazi perceptions of adult male circumcision as a way to prevent HIV/AIDS, Simelane did it himself through Skidmore support and contacts he developed in the Swazi Ministry of Health.

His research revealed widespread misperceptions leading to poor choices. “Even well-intended health programs can do more harm than good without trained professionals to design and run them,” says Simelane, who is currently studying at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “As soon as I earn my master’s, I’m headed home to make a difference.”

History major David Schlenker ’13 studied at a university in Istanbul and learned Turkish, then the summer before senior year he did a Skidmore-funded internship teaching children in a New Delhi slum for an India-based NGO.

Now back in Turkey as a Fulbright fellow, Schlenker is serving as an English teaching assistant and cultural intermediary. This summer he will move to Charlotte, N.C, to work for Teach for America in an inner-city school—a precursor to graduate studies in education policy, advocacy, and reform to “better understand how to institutionalize quality education for everyone.”

At Skidmore, Schlenker says, “All it takes is that first step. After that, opportunity after opportunity unfolds. You can count on an incredible amount of support from lots of people.”

 

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