Thinking Globally

Students gain career competencies and broaden their world view.

For student Elizabeth Stapleton, global studies is more than a program – it’s an integral part of her coursework and career interests.Stapleton, who will graduate in December with a Spanish major, already had an interest in immigration issues when she started at Upstate.

She is pursing a minor in Spanish interpretation and translation, and has completed an internship with an immigration lawyer. That experience allowed her to work with people from all over the world, something she found fascinating.“I loved the diversity,” she says. “You learn about different cultures and how different people act, and what’s important to them and how they communicate.”Gaining that kind of understanding, and being open to learning from people from different backgrounds, is one of the desired learning outcomes of the global studies minor, says Alex Lorenz, assistant professor of German and director of global engagement at USC Upstate. “The goal is to create a culture of global understanding for students enrolled in any classes to show them they are able to have a global mindset,” Lorenz says.

Today’s workplaces increasingly extend beyond a physical office in the United States to include divisions all over the world, he notes. Even companies that are entirely based in America often attract a diverse workforce that represents many cultures and viewpoints. Students who demonstrate experience with cross-cultural communication can therefore be valuable additions to an employer’s staff, Lorenz says.

“We have so much globalization going on, so much migration, especially from different parts of the country to our area,” Lorenz says. “Our students need to get ready for that, they have to be able to understand and react to differences.”

The global studies program has two different tracks. The first, the minor, which requires 18 credit hours, can be fulfilled with a variety of classes from multiple disciplines. Language, history, political science, business, and communication, among others, all offer courses that count toward the minor. Study abroad is mandatory, and can be as short as a weeklong faculty-led trip or a more intensive semester or summer program.

Stapleton, for example, will be joining Hannah Terpack, director of Career Management, on a weeklong trip to Costa Rica in March. Student Tim Bolton, however, is spending the semester in Germany as a participant in USC Upstate’s dual degree program with Landshut University. Bolton has already learned what Lorenz says is one of the most important skills of being in a foreign country – dealing with being uncomfortable.

Student Tim Bolton is studying abroad at Landshut University in Germany as part of USC Upstate’s exchange program. The opportunity has afforded him the ability to meet students from around the world and travel around Germany.

“When I first came here and did not know a soul, I was naturally anxious about how my time here would be,” Bolton says. But once he got to know the other international students, he quickly formed friendships with them. “These are some of the strongest relationships I have made so far,” Bolton says.Not every student can afford the cost or time of study abroad, so a second track that does not require travel, the global competence certificate, was created in 2020, Lorenz says. The certificate requires 12 credit hours, and an internship with a global or intercultural focus can count toward credits. As with the minor, students who earn the certificate demonstrate to future employers they have the skills to contribute to a diverse workforce.

“When we talk about empathy towards other people or cultures, in these classes that’s what you learn,” Lorenz says. “You learn about the differences of thinking and what they stem from.”

He notes that equity and inclusion is one of the eight career readiness skills, identified by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, that students should have by the time they graduate. That competency includes the knowledge to engage with and include people from different global cultures.

That’s exactly what Stapleton says she’s gained through her internship and service experiences. “I love connecting with people and learning more about them, and learning more about what goes on in places outside of the U.S.,” she says.

In addition to encouraging more students to go abroad, and more faculty to lead international trips, Lorenz sees other opportunities to grow the global studies program on campus. He envisions additional events that would increase students’ exposure to other cultures, such as an international festival that showcases the diversity of USC Upstate students, or a guest speaker series featuring people sharing their experiences of migrating to South Carolina. Other ideas include international movie nights or mini cooking courses where students could try their hand at creating dishes from another country.

“We have the academic side, where students can take classes and learn about different cultures,” Lorenz says. “Now we need to figure out ways for them to experience that on campus.”

Stapleton, who is currently working on a paper with Lorenz on Latin American immigrants’ experiences coming to the U.S., says when people push themselves to get outside their bubbles, they begin to see how much more there is to life than what they’re familiar with.

“A lot of us have no idea what the rest of the world holds,” she says. “I think to really achieve our capacity to live to our fullest potential, we need to be exposed to those things and learn.”