Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Study abroad office gains leadership for future travels around the world

Victoria Campbell

France, Peru and Hong Kong are all study abroad locations that Augustana students can visit during their time at the college. 

However, over the past several weeks, the study abroad office has had two unfulfilled director positions, with CORE staff filling in the work of that office, but leaving students who are abroad without a contact at home.

However, recently, the office has gained leadership as Steven Duke from the University of Nebraska system stepped into the role of director of international and off-campus programs.

So who is Steven Duke and how did he land here?

Duke is a historian and knows three other languages fairly well: Finnish, Estonian and Russian. 

“When I lived in Finland, from 1985 to ‘87, towards the end there, the country next door was called the Soviet Union, the USSR,” Duke said. “Soviet leaders, including [Mikhail] Gorbachev, [former President of the Soviet Union] were making reforms in the Soviet Union that had a ripple effect on Finland, so I was just really fascinated by what was happening in both of those countries.” 

Along with living in Finland, Duke has been to Hong Kong once and Vietnam three times. One of his favorite places he visited is a middle eastern country called Oman.  

“[Oman is] a fascinating country, you know, [a] traditional Muslim, Arab country [full of] wonderful, sweet people that I’ve interacted with,” Duke said. 

As a new faculty member, Duke said Augie has a wonderful atmosphere and praises its self-proclaimed focus on the liberal arts. 

Duke said he realizes that Augustana is committed to the students, and there is strong dedication and care on campus. 

“You know, the students are very talented. The faculty are committed, [and] the commitment to international study is really strong,” Duke said. “I can tell that Provost [Dianna] Shandy and the president are creative and [are] thinking into the future of how to keep Augie strong and develop new opportunities in the future.” 

Duke’s role in the study abroad office will be extensive, and he wants students to know that study abroad is for everyone. 

As a historian, Duke said he is fascinated with global issues, politics and cultures. 

He got into study abroad while working at the University of Wisconsin Madison and spent three years there working with faculty on short term and semester long study abroad programs. 

“Students who study abroad are required by Augustana College to go through a review process and my team will review that. [This position is] also coordinating with study abroad and study away partners,” Duke said. “We also coordinate the application process in helping students with Augie choice.” 

Duke’s new position has a lot of duties, and part of that is answering questions about equivalency course transfer and how students can plan a semester of courses or a summer of courses abroad that will help them towards their degree requirements. 

Duke said he wants students to realize one thing: that studying abroad can be more than just a trip. It can be an experience that opens students up to new possibilities that allow them to flourish in their future career. 

“Our students need to be able to interact effectively and appropriately with [people from across the globe]. Beyond that, global trends are affecting the United States. So, if you’re in a business that has supply chains, whatever happens in China, or Vietnam, Cambodia or Ethiopia is going to affect your supply chains,” Duke said.

Studying abroad not only widens a student’s horizons physically, but it teaches them about how interdependent global communications are. To be successful, understanding international relations will be key in the student’s futures.

“You may have customers, you may be exporting to international 

markets, so if you’re working in a place where you’re exporting to China or to Europe, you need to know what’s happening there. The global issues are very, very practical in almost every field,” Duke said.

Sophomore Kenia Wilson said she found interpersonal connections in her experience on her trip to Ecuador during her freshman year. 

“We got to meet new people and we were with a host family, so we got to hear from them directly. We [also] went to the landfills, and we did work,” Wilson said. “I really did feel like a scientist. I took notes every single day, and then by the end of our project, we made a presentation of all of our research that we learned. It was really interesting as we got to see how the social aspects played a part.” 

Some students felt the effects of both Sasha Zainal, the previous assistant director of international and off-campus programs, and Pedro Bidegaray, former director for international 

and off-campus programs, leaving. 

Bidegaray had made some connections, including funding part of the Ecuador trip for some of the students. Wilson and Neida Marquez, junior, both said their experience was in-

credibly positive with him and hope to see this continue with the new leadership. 

“So with Pedro, he made me feel comfortable because I think he could tell that I just felt disconnected from everyone and everyone else,” Wilson said. “We played games and it made me feel more comfortable, like to really branch out and include everyone.”

Marquez was helped by Bidegaray’s previous leadership.

“I had direct communication with Pedro because he was running the whole First Year Abroad program,” Marquez said. “It was a little unorganized at times, but overall, it was a good experience.”

Some of the students said the First Year Abroad program is a little unorganized, like Marquez said, and the trips are a little too expensive. Junior Hana Bui who works in the office said there are some issues that can certainly be worked out in the future. 

“I have to take the course approval paper from them, and then I have to meet my advisors so that they can approve that,” Bui said. “And then I have to come back, get the director from the study abroad program signatures, and then I have to bring that to the registrar and then after they approve that, I go to the course approval. So, the course approval process is really long and complicated. I have to meet with three different departments.”

Bui hopes to see a more streamlined approval process under Duke’s leadership that provides more information about the trips to the students, stating that she has to do a lot of her own research. 

Marquez also shared this struggle. 

“Now that [Duke] is here, [I hope] they have all the resources available there. Because I feel like I’ve had to do a lot of research on my own,” Marquez said. 

However, both Marquez and Bui said working to go abroad isn’t all bad, and in fact, Bui enjoys working in the office and learning new things. 

“I feel like working in the study abroad program is quite interesting. Also working there improves your interpersonal skills because you have to talk with students when they have [a] question,” Bui said. 

Bui also said that Zainal was incredibly helpful and that overall her experience was very positive. Bui said she wants the best for the program so that more students get to travel and experience one of her favorite activities. 

“I really like traveling. One of my goals is when I turn 30, I would like to travel to at least 10 countries,” Bui said. 

Going forward, Bui and Wilson said they want a director who pays attention to what is right for individual students.

“I hope that [Duke] can give us advice that can really help us, like giving advice that directly helps us. I don’t want any advice [about study abroad] to be general. I want to have specific advice that can help me with my goals,” Bui said.

Understanding that students use study abroad opportunities to explore new places and expand themselves sets a challenge for the new director to meet. There has to be a focus on the students for the experiences to be rewarding.

“I would hope to see a director who really has the best interest for the students, and they really care, and you can tell to the point where it’s infectious,” Wilson said.  

Duke wants to let students know that he is here for them. 

The student relationships built before, during and after study abroad trips are one of the main reasons students choose to travel, and Duke recognizes this excitement and wants to keep it going.

“We’re committed, and we got a strong team here and ready to help students in any way that we can to take advantage of study abroad,” Duke said.

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