First-Year Students Expand Horizons with Study Abroad

CSUF First Year Experience students in Costa Rica
First-year students  tour the Dominican Republic during the Office of First Year Experience's first -ever Study Abroad program for freshmen.

June 18, 2018

By Christina L. Cardenas
Communications and Marketing Specialist
Office of Academic Programs 

From the bustling streets of La Paz, Baja California Sur to the beaches of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, groups of first-year Cal State Fullerton students were able for the first time to study abroad and bring home a renewed sense of community and love of learning.

The Office of First Year Experience (OFYE) partnered with International Programs and Global Engagement, and the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) to offer “Global Titans,” a week-long study abroad program available to first-year Summer Bridge students enrolled in University 100.

Nearly 50 students, divided into three separate groups, traveled to Mexico and the Dominican Republic for a week in January. They engaged in community service projects, learned about each country’s culture, and trekked through locales often unseen by tourists. Global Titans was funded by Graduation Initiative 2025, the President’s Strategic Fund, the Center for Internships & Community Engagement (CICE), and EOP.

“Normally first-year students are not given the opportunity to study abroad,” said Silvia Zamudio, student support coordinator for the OFYE. “This was a unique opportunity.”

Because of its timing (between semesters) and the relatively low cost, the program provided an inclusive opportunity for students, who might not otherwise be able, to study abroad.

“Studying abroad forces you to step out of your comfort zone and become a more open-minded person,” said Alexa Roberts, one of the students who traveled to Mexico. “Being a part of Global Titans has changed my perspective on life and school.”

Roberts said her experience in La Paz made a direct impact on her becoming more involved and social on campus, including applying to join Camp Titans this summer. That impact, said Dr. Mary Ann Villarreal, Associate Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Interim Director for OFYE, is one of the main goals of the program.

“The program is building a sense of belonging,” Villarreal said. “The level at which students want to give back to their peers is amazing. They say, ‘How can I share this experience?’ These students serve as ambassadors for their peers and families.” 

Villarreal said Global Titans was inspired by a similar program at Georgia State University, which has shown to have had a positive effect on first-year retention—a key factor in increased graduation rates, which is the aim of California State University’s systemwide GI2025.

In addition to learning more about the history and culture of the countries they visited, students also learned to become more independent.

“For many, it was the first time students budgeted their money, bought their own food, navigated airports, bought plane tickets, and got passports,” said OFYE Special Projects Coordinator Rosemarie Enriquez, who, along with IPGE Program Coordinator Abigail Segura, sent information to students, provided workshops, and answered application questions.

Salvador Reyes, who was in one of the groups that visited the Dominican Republic, said his entire perception of the world changed in just seven days.

“I fortunately gained knowledge, experience, and time for positive self-reflection. My city, Los Angeles, which once was huge to me is now like an atom in a greater spectrum,” Reyes said. “This trip made me realize that not everyone is full of selfishness and ego. There are still many friendly individuals out there. I can now see myself as a ‘global citizen’ not just an American citizen.”

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