Changes come to Study Abroad and Chinese program

Photo by Daniel Degenhardt

The Center for International Students and the Study Abroad Office are under new management this semester, and an assistant professor of Chinese is making alterations to the Chinese study abroad program.

Tim Urbonya, executive director of international education, started at Truman State University in early August. This position is new to Truman, although the Study Abroad Office and the Center for International Students have utilized people in similar roles in the past. As executive director, Urbonya oversees both the Study Abroad Office and the Center for International Students.

The Center for International Students has an assistant director along with two assistant coordinators, and the Study Abroad Office has study abroad advisors. Additionally, each office has a staff of student workers.

Urbonya said he and his team have been working to hire study abroad advisers for the Study Abroad Office because previous staff members have moved on to other positions or retired.

“Especially within this transition, we had to rely on our students [on staff] to help advise our students wanting to study abroad at a level we don’t typically have them do, and they came through really well,” Urbonya said. “The thing I’ve been most impressed with being here my first three months is just to be with the students and have a chance to watch them grow and to see just how capable they are.”

Alcidean Arias, a former Center for International Education Abroad employee, retired at the end of October, and she will be coming out of retirement and returning to the office to help with the transition over the course of the next few months.

In addition to hiring study abroad advisers, Urbonya said both offices are looking for ways to update and improve their efficiency, specifically to make the process of studying abroad smoother.

“I think, as the institution has addressed, [the Study Abroad Office is] in need of creating some processes and protocols and procedures just [as] a way of tightening up the operation and making us more efficient and more productive,” Urbonya said.

The Study Abroad Office has also updated the front page of its website and is looking to gradually improve the site to make it more navigable for students gathering information about studying abroad.

Along with changes within the offices, the Chinese study abroad program is also undergoing structural changes.

Liulin Zhang, assistant professor of Chinese, said in recent years the program has not been very popular. In the past, the host university has been Shanghai University in Shanghai, but now the program will send them to Soochow University in Suzhou.

“As you know, the cost of living, life expense, is very expensive in Shanghai, so I changed to [a] slightly cheaper place,” Zhang said. “[Soochow University] promised they can offer two levels of language courses. Shanghai University can only offer one level of language courses and we typically need more than one level.”

Along with additional language course levels, Soochow University will also offer a Chinese Cultural Practicum Course where students can learn cultural customs like tai chi and making Chinese tea and dumplings to enhance their cultural experience.

Zhang said she hopes this updated Chinese study abroad program will attract more students and allow them to learn more of the Chinese language and culture.