WU’s Baxter helps students take advantage of international study opportunities

Maggie Smith, Staff Writer

Many college students fall in love with traveling during college. Whether it’s road-trips with friends on the weekends, traveling for spring break, making friends with people from other states or countries and getting to travel home with them, or to studying abroad for a couple weeks or a full semester.

Many college students realize their love for traveling and long to travel more, but are hindered by a lack of money. Due to this, many student’s mentality is to wait and travel when they have careers and can afford it post grad. However, Lizz Baxter, the Assistant Director of International Programs at Wingate University said the best time for students to travel is in college.

Baxter said she became interested in traveling when she was young, because her grandparents traveled a lot and would send her postcards. Baxter joined the military in high school and got an early start in traveling.

She moved to Germany with the army and lived there for three years. She was then deployed to Iraq in 2003. When she returned from the military she attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she began studying international studies.

Baxter said she knew she wanted to study abroad so she began looking into the study abroad programs the University offered. She won the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, which is a national scholarship that allows you to study abroad a semester.

Baxter studied abroad in Argentina where she learned Spanish. When she returned from Argentina, she won another scholarship to go to Italy. After studying abroad again, Baxter said she was hooked.

After undergrad, Baxter moved to Charlotte and began working in the international office at UNC Charlotte. There, she met some connections including the Director of International Programs at Wingate University, Jennifer Armentrout. Then Jennifer offered Baxter a job in the international office at Wingate.

Baxter took the job and is currently still working at Wingate as the Assistant Director of international programs. Baxter said she always knew she wanted to be a study abroad advisor.

As part of her job as a study abroad advisor, Baxter travels to different countries with students and experiences what the students experience for herself. By doing this she’s able to get the students feedback so she knows what changes to make to the trip and what to plan.

Baxter said one of the main things she loves about her job is going out into the world and experiencing and understanding other cultures as well as helping others do that too.“I want to be able to give back to other people by helping them to get outside their own culture and bridge gaps and create understanding, because it’s so easy to get wrapped up in ‘we’re right and you’re wrong,’ I want to help people appreciate the differences,” said Baxter.Baxter also said, “There are these really incredible commonalities that can allow us to get along.”

Baxter has traveled as a Benjamin A. Gilman scholar, U.S. State Department Intern, and a member of the U.S. Army. She has traveled to approximately 30 different countries. As an advisor, one of the main pieces of advice Baxter gives, is for students to travel as much as possible while they’re in college.

“Go get world experience and life experience first, you’ll be in your job when you graduate for a long time, this is the time to do it,” said Baxter. Baxter said that when you’re young, people who are already in their careers are willing to donate money to you to help you travel. “Never be afraid to ask,” said Baxter.

Baxter said that there are many opportunities out there for college students to take advantage of. She advises college students to research all the different scholarships for study abroad programs and to apply for many.

Luckily for Wingate students, Wingate University offers a signature program called W’international. This opportunity allows students to study abroad for ten days in either the fall or spring semester of their junior year and is counted as a two-credit class. Wingate University offers many other study abroad programs such as: international internships, summer programs, semester programs, and volunteer and teach programs.

Wingate Senior Kaitlyn Brunworth has taken full advantage of Wingate’s various study abroad programs throughout her four years here. During the summer following her sophomore year she took Spanish 307 which was an intensive immersion course where she spent three weeks in Costa Rica.

She lived with a host family, took Spanish classes during the week, and went on excursions on the weekends. During her fall semester of her Junior year she got the chance to go to Cambodia for ten days through the W’international program. “I can honestly say that the ten days I spent in Cambodia were some of the best of my life because I got to explore an incredible country with some of my closest friends at Wingate.”

Brunworth said that one of her favorite experiences in Cambodia was on the first evening of the trip. She said she and some classmates explored the city Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

Brunworth said they got to witness people partaking in religious festivities and soccer and tennis games all along the street and river. She said they spent the evening surrounded by live Cambodian music, guided Buddhist prayers, and street markets with all-too-authentic Cambodian foods.

Brunworth said she and her classmates also got the chance partake in a Buddhist tradition that is meant to bring good karma, in which they bought birds from a lady selling them in the street and threw them into the air over the river to watch them fly away. “It was an amazing evening, filled with vibrant life and beauty,” said Brunworth.

Brunworth also spent her spring semester of her junior year studying abroad and doing an internship in Granada, Spain, through the CEA program. In Spain, she took several classes in Spanish language, culture and history.

In addition to interning at a local doctor’s office, Brunworth also got the chance to play soccer with a local women’s team during her semester in Spain, which she also claims as one of her favorite experiences.

“It was really fun training with them because the Spanish girls have a different style of playing than what I’m used to back home, so it was entertaining for me to try new things and adjust to training with them” said Brunworth.

Brunworth said what she enjoyed most about playing with the team was building relationships with the girls on the team and learning new Spanish slang and laughing with them when she “butchered new phrases.”

“At the end of the semester they invited me to their team barbecue where I got to meet all of their families and enjoy an evening of wine and dancing in the back yard, which was one of my favorite days in Spain” said Brunworth.

Like Lizz Baxter, Brunworth also said that now is the time to travel abroad. “This is probably one of very few opportunities you’ll get to spend a significant amount of time abroad for a low price. Additionally, your late teens and early twenties are an ideal time to travel because you aren’t tied down with a full-time career and a family to take care of. Of course there will be days when you miss home and wish you could be back with your family and friends and just stuff your face with American food…But the new experiences and everything you learn about the world and about yourself while abroad will totally out-weigh a few home-sick days” said Brunworth.

Brunworth advises anyone who studies abroad to keep an open mind as much as possible. “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t… especially when they have an entirely different cultural background from your own.  Open your mind and soak in as much as you can. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something new- a song, dance move, food recipe, value, or tradition that you want to begin incorporating into your own life,” said Brunworth, “If you let it, your time abroad will be the perfect opportunity to get to know who you truly are, because when you allow yourself to be immersed in a new country you are no longer tied down by the standards of your home culture and expectations.”

Study abroad advisors like Lizz Baxter, help students find financial assistance for their foreign study. Financial assistance for students at Wingate includes: Wingate International Grant for Students (WINGS) and Federal and Institutional Financial Aid.

Brunworth said she used a WINGS grant to help pay for Spanish 301 in Costa Rica. Brunworth said that the W’international program to Cambodia included round trip flights, a week in hotels, some meals, and all tour guides and transportation for under $750.

“It’s too good of a deal to pass up” said Brunworth, “I strongly believe that every eligible Junior at Wingate should take advantage of the W’International program, especially if you’ve never traveled out of the country before.  It’s extremely affordable, and since it is school-sanctioned everything is very organized and safe.”

Brunworth said that for her final semester abroad she worked with Jennifer Armentrout and the CEA program to get the cost of her semester in Spain covered by her Wingate tuition.

“This helped a lot because I was still eligible for my academic and athletic scholarships from Wingate. I just paid my normal semester’s tuition plus the plane flight,” said Brunworth, “I even had the price of the plane flight reduced because I signed up before an early-decision deadline for my study abroad program so CEA gave me a voucher for my flights.”

Brunworth said the most important thing when trying to save money on study abroad programs is to get organized early and have everything planned long before your trip.

“This will give you more time to apply for scholarships such as the WINGS grant, more time to fundraise, and more time to sort out any obstacles that come up. Not to mention, flights are typically cheaper if you purchase them way in advance” said Brunworth.

Lizz Baxter said that there are many national scholarships as well as many scholarships offered by Wingate alone, and advises students to check out the programs and scholarships that Wingate honors at www.wingate.edu/internation

Photo Courtesy of hercampus.com

Edited by: Brea Childs

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