What is it like to be a university student in Germany or Jamaica? Florida State University students are finding out through the cultural exchange program Beyond Borders.
The program, coordinated by FSU’s Center for Global Engagement, offers an alternative to traditional academic study abroad programs and provides students with short-term, cultural learning experiences through immersion in foreign cultures.
Each year, small groups of Florida State students host university students from Germany and Jamaica to show them what college life is like in the United States. Those groups then travel to Germany or Jamaica, hosted by their respective counterparts.
“The purpose is for the students to have an immersive experience by visiting local places and meeting different people, building relationships and learning about others on a one-to-one level,” said Lena Papadopoulos, coordinator of Intercultural Programs.
A group of 10 students and one team leader from Studentenwerk – Dresden in Germany are in the final week of a three-week visit to FSU. The German exchange students are being taught a lot about American culture in a short amount of time. They shadow Florida State students to get a sense of what a typical day is like in the life of an FSU student, tour campus, attend Seminole sporting events and experience the culture in and around Tallahassee.
This week, the FSU and German students discussed the similarities and differences between the two places during the semester long, one-credit class that FSU students are required to take as a part of the Beyond Borders program.
German students said they have been impressed by the sense of community and family at Florida State.
“Everyone is so open-minded and the university is much more of a community than in Germany,” said Lena Klingmann, one of the visiting students. “It’s much more connected here with the university — friends and free time and work.”
They also noticed how many people wear their Seminole gear around campus.
“You have a feeling that everyone belongs and you are a part of the university,” said Mylène Lapoirie, who is the coordinator for Beyond Borders in Germany. “This feeling is not so strong in Germany.”
During Florida State’s spring break, the German students explored Florida on their own, visiting popular destinations like Walt Disney World, Cape Canaveral, St. Augustine and Key West. Likewise, when the FSU group travels to Germany in May, they will take an independent trip to Berlin for four days.
Papadopoulos, who teaches the Beyond Borders class of students who will travel to Germany, also will be the team leader for the group. In the class, students learn about cultural identity, how culture shapes the way we see the world, intercultural communication, as well as specific information about the country they will be visiting, such as history, educational systems and government.
Last year, she witnessed the result of mixing classroom learning with person interactions with people from another country when she traveled to Germany with FSU’s Beyond Borders students.
“I like to see when the students have those ‘wow’ moments of understanding the significance of cultural difference and how it really does inform the way you perceive your reality,” Papadopoulos said.
The Beyond Borders program also takes 12 students to the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, during FSU’s spring break each year.
Students must apply and go through an interview process in order to be a part of the program. For more information, visit https://cge.fsu.edu/global-programs/beyond-borders.