UNC system explores ties to India

While many students envision a study abroad experience with Spanish tapas or in Parisian cafes, few imagine a semester snapping selfies at the Taj Mahal or navigating colorful outdoor markets.

But many campuses across the UNC system hope that is going to change.

The system’s General Administration presented a proposal to strengthen ties between India and the UNC system to the Board of Governors earlier this month. The proposal encourages system schools to expand study abroad programs in India, increase faculty exchanges and introduce clubs and classes to spark student interest in India.

The proposal follows January’s UNC-India Summit, when system faculty and Indian education leaders discussed strategies to deepen the partnership.

Despite India’s growing influence in the international arena, system study abroad programs there have seen consistently low enrollment.

According to the proposal, fewer than 100, or 1.7 percent, of the almost 5,800 UNC-system students who study abroad each year went to the second-most populous country in the world.

“The programs in London or Australia tend to have higher enrollments because people are more comfortable, they don’t want to go outside their comfort zone, so it kind of takes a special kind of student who wants to go to India,” said John Caldwell, a faculty director for the UNC-CH summer program.

Caldwell said crowds, poverty and language barriers are some reasons students hesitate to study in India.

“On the other hand, students find a lot of stuff about Indian culture and India that is not only fascinating, but … they find they can incorporate that into their lives,” he said.

Caldwell said he hopes sharing UNC-CH’s experience with India study abroad programs will be helpful to the campuses introducing these programs.

Of the 99 students across the system who studied abroad in India from 2010 to 2011, Caldwell said about 30 to 40 were from UNC-CH.

“(UNC-CH) is already pretty far along the learning curve in terms of programs in India, but I think the other campuses that are involved in this initiative will probably benefit more since they haven’t traditionally had programs,” he said.

Brad Sekulich,director of Education Abroad at UNC-Charlotte, said only one or two UNC-C students study in India each year, but the school is developing a short-term program similar to that of UNC-CH’s to accommodate growing interest. The program will run in 2014.

“This kind of support from (General Administration) is really helpful,” he said.

The UNC system also aims to attract Indian students to the state.

Bonnie Derr, international programs coordinator for the system, said these students bring the state economic benefits.

“Usually, the students that get here from India are the smartest of the smartest, and many of them stick around and start businesses,” she said.

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