With new director, study abroad changes direction

AQUINAS PHOTO / CARMINE GERRITY-GEMEI /THE INTERNATIONAL Center is located on the fifth floor of St. Thomas Hall. The office welcomes students interested in studying abroad and encourages questions about the programs.

AQUINAS PHOTO / CARMINE GERRITY-GEMEI /THE INTERNATIONAL Center is located on the fifth floor of St. Thomas Hall. The office welcomes students interested in studying abroad and encourages questions about the programs.

Published: October 2, 2015


The University’s study abroad office has made major changes since the spring.

Study abroad is headed in a new direction after hiring John Sivalon, M.M. to replace Michael Simons, who directed study abroad and global initiatives for 23 years. A request to find out the reason for Simons’ departure was met with, “No comment” from the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Joseph Dreisbach, Ph.D. The study abroad program will now be more focused on the academic aspects of study abroad, and incorporating Jesuit ideals of discovering global inequality and helping those in need.

This office handles around 200 students that study abroad per year and is controlled by three faculty members. The office is in the process of orienting Sivalon to his duties and responsibilities as the new director. Sivalon said he is receiving great support from the other two faculty members in the office, and his new role is “certainly not overwhelming.”

Administrative Assistant Noelle Drozdick has handled much of the paperwork between The University and universities abroad for over 11 years. She said it is a challenge, but a good challenge, to welcome Sivalon to his position and believes he will learn the job quickly.

“It definitely is busy, never a dull time for sure,” Drozdick said. “I’ve been here for so long, Dr. Dreisbach has been here for so long, we know enough to keep it up and running until Father Sivalon catches on and learns more about it.”

Dreisbach said The University was very fortunate to hire Sivalon. They plan to use Sivalon’s experience as a Maryknoll minister to tie the goals of study abroad more closely with academics and the Jesuit mission of The University.

“We were talking about a new direction for study abroad for a little while, trying to link it more to the mission of the institution, both the Catholic and Jesuit broader aspects of the mission,” Dreisbach said. “But then also to do something a little more obvious and that is really push more towards the academic goals of study abroad.”

The University has programs available to students on every continent except Antarctica. While Dreisbach said he supports students studying abroad to see the sites of the country, he thinks more of an emphasis needs to be placed on the academic and career benefits of the experience.

“I think the first question we want students to ask is not, ‘Where do I want to go?’ It really should be, ‘What do I want to accomplish with the study abroad experience?’ And then we can help shape that student’s interests a little bit,” he said.

Dreisbach said Sivalon is having meetings with 25-30 exchange students encouraging them to persuade American students to visit their countries for study abroad trips.

Sivalon is clearly an advocate for giving every student the opportunity to study abroad. He, himself, got his Master’s degree in sociology at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and earned his Ph. D. in sociology and theology from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada.

He emphasized the importance of speaking with the departments and colleges so that they can better tailor their programs to promote opportunities abroad. Sivalon said most students in the U.S. who study abroad are involved in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, but he believes studying abroad is important for all students regardless of major. It is an opportunity to experience different countries and people. Adding a service component to each study abroad trip is one of his goals.

“Part of the strategic vision of the next five years is fulfilling the Jesuit identity of global solidarity and justice in the world by exposing people to the real depth of inequality and injustice that exists,” Sivalon said. “And the responsibility of students as they go through this formation period in their life to understand the tears of this world and how you respond to them and how you’re responsible for this.”

Although Europe is a safer place to go, Sivalon said he wants to foster more exposure to Latin America, Africa and Asia for a more dramatic difference in cultural perspective. Many students, he has observed, are trying to study abroad in their junior or senior year and are just taking any trip they can. He wants to get more programs to adopt the model the nursing program has, which is carving out the sophomore year spring semester to study abroad, because planning early for a trip is vital.

“We’re trying to focus on freshman, introducing them to the concept of study abroad. Freshman and sophomores, we’re going to have general information sessions for all freshman just to get the idea out there,” he said. “We have about 300 almost 400 names of freshmen who are already interested in going abroad, so that’s kind of a positive element if we can get people thinking early about how transformative this can be in their lives and in their careers really.”

The University has seen the same number, or an increase in study abroad students, over the past five years in all but one year, 2012-2013. Including faculty led trips, 243 students studied abroad last year compared with 215 the year before and 206 five years ago.

One of those students is junior Kaelyn Jacques who studied in Puebla, Mexico over 2015 intersession. Students took two classes taught by professors at Universidad Iberoamericana and Yamile Silva, Ph.D. and Jamie Trnka, Ph.D. led the students outside of the classroom. Jacques said she liked the classes, but preferred going on the trips.

“I really loved going on all of the trips and not just staying in one city especially since they were faculty led because then we were guided on these tours and knew where to go and what the important sites were rather than just wandering aimlessly, which we also did,” Jacques said. “So we kind of got the best of both worlds; guided tours and self-taught.”

Erin Casey, a senior who studied abroad at Florence University of the Arts in Italy during the 2014 spring semester, took classes such as Introduction to Italian, the Italian Soccer Experience, Introduction to Iphone-ography and Philosophy and Modern Science. Both she and Jacques said they felt there was a good balance between classroom learning and taking trips. Casey said she enjoyed studying in Italy more than in the U.S.

“I think it was definitely more interesting and it made me want to learn more because even when I went to visit Rome and things you’ve read about it textbooks, actually seeing it come to life is completely different,” Casey said.

Although the study abroad office has gone through changes in faculty and direction, they are optimistic. Drozdick believes the program is heading in the right direction.

“I think we’re definitely heading in the right direction. We’re trying to broaden the program, expand, get more students abroad,” Drozdick said. “Over time, with any job there’s going to be a learning curve, so once he (Sivalon) figures out how things are working in the program I think we’re going to be in a good place.”

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