Local News

Wednesday, Mar 21 2012 05:51 PM

Bakersfield College launches its first study abroad program

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Poe OO from Myanmar sings a song in Burmese for a standing room only audience during an international student celebration in the Bakersfield College Fireside Room on Wednesday afternoon. BC has received a federal grant to participate in a student exchange program with other countries, the first time a community college has received such funding.

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BY JORGE BARRIENTOS Californian staff writer jbarrientos@bakersfield.com

Mohammed Ben Youssef is from Libya. Audur Palmarsdottir is from Iceland. And Elmer Okanovic is from Bosnia.

But they have something in common -- they've chosen Bakersfield College to start their higher education careers.

On Wednesday, they and several other international students shared a bit about themselves and their home countries to their peers in BC's annual "Cup of Culture" diversity celebration.

It's the third year BC has hosted the event, but there's an additional reason to celebrate international students this year.

The community college has launched its first study abroad program -- the Atlantis Program -- made possible by $230,000 in U.S. Department of Education funds that will cover the students' expenses.

The program partners up BC and Cal State Dominguez Hills with a university in Italy and another in Spain with a goal to train students to become teachers.

It's an exchange student program that at the end, after four years, will involve 96 students and 48 exchangess, according to the education department.

The students will study early childhood education in particular -- BC and Cal State Dominguez Hills host child development centers. The joint programs are designed to help students earn double or "transatlantic" degrees that would allow them to teach in either country.

Seventy-five applications were submitted to participate in the $16 million program, and 26 were selected nationwide, according to the education department. BC is sole community college involved.

On Wednesday, international students at BC performed music and gave presentations on their home countries. The goal of the Cup of Culture is for BC students to get to know students from other countries, learn their culture -- or take a "sip of a cup of culture" -- and also to celebrate the diversity at BC, said Shohreh Rahman, BC international student counselor.

The international student population has been growing each year at BC, Rahman said.

"Our students need to experience other cultures to be able to create a more peaceful world," Rahman said. "It's important for BC students to get that global experience."

Currently, 39 students from about 20 different countries study on Bakersfield's campus.

A standing-room only crowd of students in BC's Fireside Room learned that Ben Youssef didn't live in a desert or inside a tent in Libya, as is the stereotype, he said.

"It's a beautiful place to visit," the engineering student said.

Iceland's Palmarsdottir wanted to take college courses in California, and wound up in Bakersfield to study English. She shared that Iceland's population is just more than 300,000 -- less than Bakersfield's.

"It's not that bad here. It's still California," said Palmarsdottir, who plans to transfer to either Cal Poly San Luis Obispo or UC Santa Barbara. "I'm happy here."

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