Reflecting on rural villages and ancient traditions, UCF alumnus Tomas Valladares recalls how a trip to China opened doors for his future.

As an undergraduate, Valladares helped manage ChinaVine, a project that sent groups of university students to China to document vanishing art forms and folk culture through videos and photography.

“The ability to travel internationally and experience things first hand — there’s nothing like that in the classroom, and there are so many opportunities at UCF to do that,” Valladares said.

Valladares credits his ChinaVine experiences with helping him earn admission to the Arts and Administration graduate program at the University of Oregon.

Offices across the University of Central Florida are combining their resources to offer students such as Valladares more internationally focused course content and programs, preparing them for the world marketplace.

“The university community recognizes the importance of providing an education that prepares its students to compete — and lead — in a world that is complex and interrelated,” said Consuelo Stebbins, UCF’s assistant vice president for internationalization.

At UCF, a growing number of partnerships with international universities and an annual series of scholar-led forums on global issues are fostering an international campus climate, a globally aware student body — and, ultimately, highly competitive graduates.

Bringing you the world

Over the past five years, faculty members and academic departments supported by the Office of International Studies (OIS) and the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning have created or enhanced more than 100 courses with international dimensions. They also have added new programs, including the World Comparative Studies and International Engineering minors.

To make information about the various programs more accessible to UCF’s nearly 53,500 students, the UCF International Affairs Committee and OIS recently launched a new website that provides links to offices and organizations involved in activities with an international, global and cultural focus.

“We want students to be able to go to one place to find all of the information they need about our many international programs and resources,” said Angel Cardec, OIS’ director.

Study abroad

Students are encouraged to seek out international opportunities to broaden their career prospects, expand their cross-cultural understanding and ultimately gain further insight and experience within their field of study. UCF has 132 academic partnerships with universities around the globe.

Among the opportunities for UCF students is study abroad, a collaborative program supported by OIS, the Office of Student Financial Assistance, the Office of Experiential Learning and Student Development and Enrollment Services. Working together, these organizations create a smooth transition for students wishing to learn in other countries.

“Globalization has brought the world closer, and what better way to understand it than by working with a country literally on the other side of the world,” said Jackie Bacal, a graduate student at UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy who was also involved with the ChinaVine project.

This summer, 15 students participated in one of UCF’s newest programs in Spain, where they spent 10 weeks teaching English at elementary schools throughout the Castilla and Leon region.

Other recent additions to the study abroad line-up include a Communications exchange program with the University of Jonkoping in Sweden and a Public Administration program in Seoul, South Korea.

Still, UCF students don’t have to leave to campus to connect with people from around the world and experience different countries and cultures.

Enriching the UCF community

The university enrolls more than 1,600 international students from 128 countries. UCF’s International Services Center serves as a source of information and advocacy and assists with the cultural transition that students face upon arriving in the United States.

“International students contribute tremendously to cultural exchange and dialogue in and out of the classroom and enhance the overall educational experience at UCF,” said Rocky Blesso, the center’s cultural programmer.

Spearheading an effort to create campus-based, globally focused events for students is the Global Perspectives Office, which has been inviting renowned experts to speak at public forums, panels, conferences and symposia on a wide variety of topics since 2001.

“Our goal was to transform the campus so that students would have internationally oriented opportunities on a regular basis,” said John C. Bersia, special assistant to the President for Global Perspectives. “Now, we host an event almost every week, serving more than 25,000 people a year, mostly students.”

The 2010-2011 program will feature global business specialist Jagdish Sheth; novelist Luis Alberto Urrea; a forum on women and leadership; actress and environmental activist Alicia Silverstone; and a conference on America and the rising powers. Other speakers will include musician and print and broadcast commentator Derrick Ashong, Francis Bok (the author of the first contemporary slave narrative), Paul Rusesabagina (the real-life hero of the Hotel Rwanda story) and Sergei Krushchev (the son of the former Russian leader).

Other local opportunities include International Education Week, the annual International Fair and weekly conversation hours hosted by the UCF Center for Multilingual Multicultural Studies.