UNC students can have a traditional study abroad experience anywhere from Buenos Aires to Vienna. But other opportunities to go abroad — for an internship, research or service — do exist, even though they may be harder to find.
The UNC Center for Global Initiatives recently launched an online database to collect data on a variety of those opportunities, in hopes of providing students with a singular source of information on alternative abroad experiences.
The database, Embark Carolina Experience Explorer, is comprised of data from student and alumni testimonies about programs other than for-credit study abroad opportunities. Students can search the database by type of experience, country, time of year, foreign language requirement and more.
The purpose of the database is to connect students with the experiences of their peers, learn about skills others developed, determine if an experience is a good fit for them and allow them to share their own experiences, said Katie Costanza, a research, communication and program manager for CGI.
Costanza worked with former work-study student Melissa Stewart and Niklaus Steiner, the director of the center, to develop the database with input from the Opening Access to Global Opportunities Working Group.
“It really has two purposes: it’s to go and read what others are doing, but then to go ahead and also add your own experience," Steiner said.
Zach Ward, student services manager for the curriculum in global studies, said perhaps the most important feature of the database is students simply sharing information about what they've done.
“Generally speaking, the common mantra holds true that the best repository of that information is fellow students," Ward said. "It’s peers who can speak to not only the quality of the experiences but what did it mean to them afterwards in regards to their major and career aspirations."
Senior Banu Karatas and junior Alex Schmidt, both majoring in global studies and political science, said their lives were changed by experiences abroad outside the typical for-credit setting.
“When people think about global experiences, the first thing they think of is study abroad … I mean, because it’s more structured and more popular, that’s the one thing you can think of," Karatas said. "But there are actually a lot of different ways you can go around getting a global experience."
Karatas has always been globally-oriented, she said: she grew up in Turkey and attended a German high school. Still, her alternative abroad experience — independent research in London and Paris — helped to shape her choice of major and future career.
Schmidt, having grown up without experience abroad until an internship last spring in Madrid, said it’s something everyone needs.
“I think it should be one of those things, at a certain point, where it becomes almost a necessary part of education,” she said.
Without a centralized place to find information about programs, students usually end up learning about them by word of mouth or personal research, Karatas and Schmidt said. The Experience Explorer offers an alternative.
Steiner said he is now calling on students to sign in with their ONYEN and fill out a survey if they have participated in a globally-oriented experience – something abroad, or local work with a global focus – through the link at the bottom of the Experience Explorer page on embark.unc.edu.
Additionally, he encourages all students to browse the database’s wealth of information and consider going abroad. Other helpful resources on Embark’s site include the Funding Finder, the Global Guide and a UNC staff database called Global Experts.
“We’re really lucky here at UNC to have so many great ways for students to pursue global opportunities. We have this incredible study abroad program, so if you want to go abroad and earn credit, you can do that," Steiner said. "But there are also lots of ways you can go abroad not for credit – go do internships and research and volunteer – and that’s really where this database comes in."
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