Support Spotlight: The Office of International Studies & Programs Broadens Student’s Educational and Life Experiences

Support Spotlight: The Office of International Studies & Programs Broadens Student’s Educational and Life Experiences

Support Spotlight: The Office of International Studies & Programs Broadens Student’s Educational and Life Experiences

John Jay students are outstanding in the classroom. And, thanks to the expanded programming from the Office of International Studies & Programs (OISP), which has increased opportunities for students to participate in international living and learning experiences, they’re excelling abroad as well. Led by Deputy Director Kenneth Yanes, the office helps propel forward the internationalization of John Jay, making the College and its talented and diverse student body, part of the global learning experience. “As a Hispanic-Serving Institution [HSI] and a Minority-Serving Institution [MSI] based in New York City, our students are already well-versed in international relations. New York is the melting pot of the world, so our students have international skills ingrained in them from an early age,” says Yanes. “Through the study abroad experience, we try to enhance those international, diplomatic skills.”

When Yanes joined John Jay five years ago his goal was to develop a study abroad office with strong ties to universities around the world. “Within our first four years, we expanded our partnerships with different universities, schools, and organizations.” The OISP office has partnered with various universities and programs providers abroad such as Queens University Belfast, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Center for Cross Cultural Learning – Morocco , API Abroad, CIEE Study Abroad, as well as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes. “This capacity building means we can provide our students with more offerings in terms of countries and programming,” says Yanes. “What’s fun about it is that we get to develop partnerships with universities that have vigorous academic offerings and have a similar curriculum to ours. For instance, students that take a semester abroad at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, have courses in Criminology and Law, while also having an internship at the IDCARE Center, an identity and cybersecurity support service.”

Kenneth Yanes
Kenneth Yanes

Creating an Inclusive, Diverse Experience
As someone who sees himself in our diverse student body, Yanes is adamant about fostering an environment that is inclusive. “Studying abroad has been shown to be beneficial for students academically, personally, and professionally. So, we want our study abroad program to be as open and diverse as possible. We want study abroad participation to include students from all backgrounds and all abilities,” says Yanes. Academically, students who have a GPA of 2.5 or above can apply to the program, and it’s open to all majors and all class years, including graduate students. For students living with a disability, OISP works with student affairs and the Office of Accessibility Services to assess what a student’s needs are and ensure comparable services are available in the partnering institution. “We have students with physical disabilities and students who have hidden disabilities, and our goal is to make sure they are safe and have the services they need to succeed abroad,” says Yanes.

“We want our study abroad programs to be as open and diverse as possible. We want study abroad participation to include students from all backgrounds and all abilities.” —Kenneth Yanes

Noting that the typical study abroad experience in most colleges has historically been geared toward students from more privileged affluent backgrounds, Yanes is grateful that the national trend in recent years has turned toward creating shorter experiences that are appealing and affordable for students from underserved and underrepresented communities. “Study abroad has traditionally been seen as something for the upper-middle and upper class to embark on, but as an MSI and HSI, we strive to change that notion. Our students have this amazing cultural capital, and we want them to realize their value on the international front.” As a child of immigrants, Yanes knows how valuable study abroad can be, especially for black and Latinx students. “My parents fled their home country of Guatemala because of its civil war, so I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in the Bronx, New York. I was very shy and guarded growing up and my own study abroad experience broke me out of my shell,” recalls Yanes. “I see how transformative it is for our students, some of whom have never been away from home or out of their communities. Even if it’s just the two-week program, students coming back from a study abroad experience return with greater confidence. They’re making eye contact, standing up straighter with their shoulders back, and they’re speaking up, and that’s because they learn what they’re capable of through being abroad.” Yanes recalls one John Jay student who was transformed by her study abroad experience. She is a non-traditional college student living in Harlem, New York, who came to John Jay to earn her bachelor’s degree later in life. “Here she was not only doing this very brave thing of coming back to school while she was in her 60s, but also immersing herself in a study abroad experience to Dakar, Senegal in West Africa. When she returned, she called it one of the most challenging, but significant experiences in her life. It was an enriching, immersive, and transformative experience for her.”

Expanding Program Offerings
Considered one of the gems of the study abroad program, the faculty-led international living and learning experience enables students to pursue an intensive study of topics in a global context. These programs, worth three academic credits, are short term in nature lasting between two to six weeks, making them appealing to students who may not want to, or are unable to, study abroad for a whole semester. “We work with our faculty to develop programs in their area of expertise and in a country that is relevant to their research,” explains Yanes, naming the Bali study abroad program led by Professor of Psychology Chitra Raghavan, Ph.D. “She does a comparative study of the self, introducing students to Balinese religious beliefs and the Balinese view on healing and illness.” These faculty-led programs create unique experiential learning experiences, which are imperative to their growth as students, and provide them with an exceptionally intensive course out in the field. “Our faculty-led programs are phenomenal and continue to grow strong, which is a credit to not only the faculty, but the students who trust this College.”

Yanes (far right) with students participating in the study abroad program in Florence, Italy
Yanes (far right) with students participating in the study abroad program in Florence, Italy

Trust is an essential component to the success of the study abroad program, explains Yanes. “Students have always had the option to go through other schools in the City University of New York [CUNY] system for the experience abroad, but our John Jay students like programs run by John Jay. They trust their ‘home school’ and that’s meaningful to us.” The trust goes both ways. OISP places an important emphasis on getting feedback from students regarding where they want to go and how they’d like the program to evolve. “Our students are strong advocates, and they’re not afraid to ask for a country to be added to the program,” says Yanes. “As long as students are serious about the academics and can get credit for their experience, we’ll try our best to find a partnering institution with rigorous programming in the desired country.” Students have asked to go to France because they love French films, Japan because they grew up reading manga, and South Korea because they’re really into K-Pop.

Yanes and his team are ready to help students hoping to take part in the study abroad program
Yanes and his team are ready to help students hoping to take part in the study abroad program

“We work with every student to help them through the financial aid, scholarship, and fellowship process.” —Kenneth Yanes

Financing Study Abroad Trips
OISP also works hard to help students with funding their trip, because no matter the program destination, or its longevity, there is a financial cost. Luckily scholarships and financial assistance are available. “We work with every student to help them through the financial aid, scholarship, and fellowship process,” says Yanes, who holds study abroad information sessions Monday through Thursday during community hour. He and his team work closely with the Financial Aid office, the John Jay College Foundation, the College’s business and accounting offices, and other members of the John Jay community to help support students. “Students can apply to the JJC Student Travel Fund to help pay for trips. And, there are many scholarships created by, or in honor of, past and present members of the John Jay community that help fund study abroad experiences. A wonderful example is The Jeremy Travis Scholarship, named after former John Jay President Jeremy Travis, who was a huge supporter of study abroad. The scholarship awards a student, at minimum, $2,500 to fund their trip,” adds Yanes. “There’s also the John Jay Rising Star Fellowship, a faculty-supported award that helps fund study abroad.” CUNY, the U.S. Department of State, the National Security Education Program and the Fund for Education Abroad—to name a few—also provide scholarships for study abroad experiences.

“Study abroad and you’ll see how you’ll learn, grow and thrive outside of your comfort zone.” —Kenneth Yanes

Advancing Students’ Potential
Knowing full well how an experience like study abroad can be both exciting and intimidating, Yanes wants students to know his office door is always open and he and his team are happy to answer any questions. What he doesn’t want is for fear to get in the way of students taking the opportunity. “The study abroad program, no matter how long or short, is an investment in yourself. Take advantage of the opportunity, be curious about the different options, asks all the questions you have,” says Yanes. “Success comes from taking advantage of the special opportunities that come your way. But those opportunities don’t come if you’re sitting still in one place. Give yourself a chance and take on the world. Study abroad and you’ll see how you’ll learn, grow and thrive outside of your comfort zone.”

Learn more about the Study Abroad program directly from students who have lived the experience.

Je’nee Fisher ’20 Deepens Her Understanding of Criminal Justice in the United Arab Emirates

Brian Bikram ’20 Explores his Passion for Anthropology in Australia

Carissa Stump ’20 Fortifies Her Interest in Psychology During Study Abroad in Sweden

Josmerlyn Santos Jimenez ’21 Strengthens Her Latinx Roots During Her Semester Abroad in Spain

Alumna Veronica Pacheco ’18 Deepens Her Understanding of the World Through Travel