Where in the world is Northern Kentucky University?

Everywhere, it seems.

From public health in Mexico to public relations in London, from learning about the plight of widows in India to trekking in Peru, the university has gone global with increasing study abroad opportunities.

“There are more global partnerships now than ever before, more international students studying here and more NKU students studying abroad than in prior years, says Christopher Cole, spokesman for the 16,000-student university.

New Frontiers

Colleges across the country are placing a greater emphasis on study abroad, with some suggesting that their students bring a passport along to campus.

“We’re not travel agents. We don’t send our students on trips,” says Francois Le Roy, executive director of NKU’s International Education Center and director of the Office of Education Abroad.

“What we do is we facilitate courses being taught abroad and monitor the academic rigors of those programs.”

The university partners with other colleges in the Kentucky Institute for International Studies and the Cooperative Center for Study Abroad to offer an array of programs. NKU also develops its own connections for opportunities abroad.

Over winter break, Adele Dean, associate professor in the College of Health Professions, took nursing and social work students to India, where they learned about Dr. Mohini Giri’s work with widows. Giri, who spoke at NKU two years ago, had invited Dean to bring students to India.

“In the more conservative strata of the Indian society, if you’re widowed, you become sort of worthless,” Dean says. “You are rejected by your husband’s family. You can’t really go back to your own family, and your children sometimes reject you, too.”

Giri, a widow, has constructed several shelters where women can live and be trained in a trade. Dean, accompanied by social work professor Karen Tapp, and the students lived with the widows for two weeks at a shelter in Vrindavan, where they heard many emotional stories. The professors constructed a course, “Women’s Health in the Societal Context,” which students studied there.

They were there shortly after the rape of a young medical student on a bus in New Delhi and met many people involved in the gender equality movement who were outraged.

“We found ourselves at a meeting with the lieutenant governor discussing how to stop violence against women, and the students were asked to contribute to the discussion with other people in key positions in New Delhi who were working on this issue,” Dean says. “It was truly a life-changing experience for all 15 students.”

Hands-on Training

Last summer, Dean led a group of nursing students to Merida, Mexico, for five weeks. While there, Dean taught “Traditional Mexican Medicine,” “Women’s Health,” and “Community Health: A Clinical.” The group visited an agency that cares for people with HIV and saw the differences between public and private hospital systems there.

Generally, nursing students spent time observing, but they were sometimes able to take vital signs, start an IV, take blood pressure and vaccinate, all under supervision by nurses in Mexico.

“This was a great experience because we got an opportunity to care for the Mexican people and make a difference in their health by referring them to physicians, if needed, or educating them on healthier lifestyles,” says Hiral Patel, 28, a senior NKU nursing student.

“The experience has changed my life forever for the better … I have also opened up my mind to think broader and accept other people’s cultures and respect them. This study abroad experience is going to help me in my career as a nurse to provide better care for my Mexican patients in the United States,” Patel says.

Public Relations in London

Gregory De Blasio, associate professor and program director for public relations, plans to take students to London this summer. He will teach “Public Relations: Controversy, Resistance, and Control,” focusing on current issues in the news.

Four years ago, he took a class to London, where he taught “Public Relations for Food and Health.” In London, the regulatory environment for the way food is marketed is different from the United States, and consumers’ attitudes toward food differ as well.

“One outstanding example is that genetically modified foods are not really accepted in Europe and produced the way they are here,” De Blasio says. “You see, firsthand, that the food that’s sold in the market is very clearly labeled where it came from, to let people know that it wasn’t transported an undue distance to get to that market, that it was in season at that time, that it’s not genetically modified.”

While in London, students visited the PR firm with the largest food accounts in the UK.

“The PR firm worked very closely with the activist groups. The firm knew not to make claims that would sound a little abrasive to folks that took what they consumed as food pretty seriously,” De Blasio says.

“I was surprised by that because, here in the United States, there’s usually a pretty strong line that separates commercial interests and activist groups, but in London and in the UK, they seem to have found a way to work together … It’s important to know that, even in a culture that’s not too far removed from our own, how different things can be.”

Seeking Experiences

The growth in the number and variety of study abroad programs is fueled by NKU students increasingly looking for international experiences, as well as study abroad scholarships that reduce sticker shock.

“Because we deal with a lot of first-generation college students and also about 70 percent of NKU students work, these do not make them likely candidates to study abroad, either because they don’t have the time or the means or sometimes both,” Le Roy says.

To combat the time hurdle, NKU offers programs that run in duration from anywhere from one week to one year. The university also offers study abroad need-based scholarships ranging from $2,000-$3,000.

“What has made us fairly successful is a lot of people on campus have completely bought into the idea that this is something that is very important to the education of our students,” LeRoy says.

Nationwide, about 2 to 3 percent of college students a year study abroad, he says. NKU mirrors that trend with a little more than 300 students going abroad last year.

The university hears from the business community and graduates that prospective employers are looking for employees who have studied abroad or are, at least, internationally-minded and globally aware.

NKU knows that it’s not possible for every student to study abroad, so it’s infused every major with courses that add a global dimension. Students also benefit from the perspective of a growing number of foreign students attending NKU. Last fall, 633 international students were enrolled, compared with 248 in fall 2009.

“Bringing a global perspective to our classrooms — and having our students study abroad — is critical because it enhances the quality of education we offer and better prepares our graduates to be engaged citizens of the world and leaders of business and industry,” says Cole, the NKU spokesman.

As Le Roy says: “Either we send our students around the world, or we bring the world to them.”