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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Q&A with new director of UC abroad programs

Jean-Xavier Guinard, former UC Davis professor of food, science and technology, is the new director of the UC system-wide Education Abroad Program (EAP). With over 10 years of experience in international education, Guinard is looking to expand the role of EAP and help more students find a way to study abroad. His base salary as the new director is $180,000.

UC Davis currently offers four options to study abroad – UC Davis Summer Abroad, UC Davis Quarter Abroad, a third-party provider or EAP. EAP sends roughly 5,000 students abroad each year for a semester or yearlong program.

How do you intend to internationalize the UC campuses?

There is a broader agenda to internationalize the UC campuses. This includes study abroad, international research, bringing international scholars to UC campuses and the participation of our faculty and administrators in worldwide initiatives. There is a consideration of a branch campus in Madrid, Spain right now. We want to infuse international into everything we do – into our teaching, research and service missions. Davis, for example, is the leader in international outreach. The College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences is involved in many projects in Afghanistan and Iraq. The EAP part in internationalizing the campuses is in educating students abroad and providing those opportunities to do so.

What do you envision for EAP?

Our vision is made up of three components. First, we want to increase access to study abroad and increase observation by non-traditional populations – students who haven’t studied abroad including first generation students, transfer students, science and engineering students and students with disabilities. We want to draw a much broader audience to study abroad. The second component is based on proper academic oversight by UC faculty. We are using more faculty consultants to ensure the academic quality of the programs. Students want to make sure they get credit, not only for graduation, but also for their major. One challenge we are facing right now is a lack of consistency across the system. The requirements for majors should be the same across the system and they are not. We are working to iron out that out so students can really get the credit they want. We are also looking at a discipline approach rather than a region approach. What I mean by that is, it used to be that if you went on the EAP website, you did because you wanted to go to a specific region. Nowadays, we find people looking at what options are available for their major. So we are making the websites available for either discipline or region. The last component is better business practices. We are doing market research to figure out where the student interests and needs are.

Do you intend to expand on programs already available or create new ones?

Both. We are looking to increase enrollment in some places, but we are really looking to diversify and innovate to meet the needs of the students. For example, we would like to offer more quarter-length options. In addition to the classroom base construction, we are looking to add more internships, research and service learning. Also, we are looking to add gap summer abroad programs. What we are trying to do with that is find a way to get community college students who transfer into the UC system to take the summer before transferring to study abroad. So we are going to expand and strengthen existing programs, but we are also going to innovate and create new programs.

Are you looking to add more non-traditional locations?

Very much so. As we went through restructuring in the past three years, there was a freeze on new programs. But as of last Friday, the Academic Senate decided to lift the freeze and we are now in the position to bring new programs to the table. The main destination has been Europe, but we are offering more programs in South America. We also have a new program in Istanbul.

How affordable is studying abroad?

Cost is a big obstacle we are trying to overcome. If you look at how much it costs to study aboard, it’s the same as staying on campus. Where students lose is, those who have income here won’t abroad. Otherwise, cost is more or less the same. Depending on the country, study abroad is affordable. It is a myth we are trying to dismiss, because often students think they can’t afford it.

What are the benefits for students to study abroad?

First, you get a top-notch education of the UC caliber. We partner with top institutions around the world or construct our own programs, which the Academic Senate reviews. Secondly, students get credit for the courses they take. In addition, you get exposed to a foreign culture and you become fully immersed in that culture. All of our programs are designed for you to be interacting as much as possible with local students and the community. It’s one thing to read about what’s going on in Chile or Korea, but it’s another thing to study abroad and be surrounded by the culture. It really opens your mind up to something different. Just about every student that comes back says that it was a life changing experience. Lastly, EAP has been a leader in health, safety and protocols. We do everything we can so we can provide a safe and healthy environment.

What advice would you give to students who want to study abroad?

Start thinking about it early. Students should meet with their academic advisors and then visit the Education Abroad Center. We have a top staff and peer interns who have experienced studying abroad. Also, visit the EAP website. Then, dismiss some of the myths about study abroad. Our research shows it’s not too expensive, it does not delay graduation and students can receive credit for their major.

MICHELLE MURPHY can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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