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At Home or Abroad, Students Immerse Themselves in Global Engagement

A male student marks his hometown on a map of the world as a female student looks on.

NC State University’s main campus in Raleigh is about 3 square miles, but the community stretches far wider. The Wolfpack is a global network: Students come from and travel to countries all over the world to study and research their passions. No matter where they come from or where they’re headed, students support each other — and themselves — through global engagement. 

Welcome to Raleigh

Amidu Kalokoh moved from Sierra Leone to Raleigh to earn a Master of International Studies degree in 2019. He had chosen NC State because of its diversity and the program’s expert faculty. When he arrived, he knew no one, but he quickly found friends in his classmates, professors and fellow international students.  

“When I first arrived here, I was coming into a new environment,” Kalokoh said. “I would take the first step — saying hi to people, talking to students, trying to find common ground.”

He built relationships in his classes, where he said group discussions were always open to new ideas, values and perspectives. He went on an Alternative Service Break experience to Washington, D.C., where he met people he’s still friends with today. He participated in the Developing Cultural Competence certificate program, where he learned about more cultures across the world. 

Amidu Kalokoh holds the Leadership Certificate he received from the Leadership Development Program in April.
Amidu Kalokoh received a certificate from the Leadership Development Program in April.

An important part of Kalokoh’s time at NC State was spent helping his peers through the International Students Advisory Council, which acts as a liaison between international students and university administration.

“I like to contribute whatever way I can,” Kalokoh said. “There are so many opportunities and challenges for international students. On the advisory council, we have our own personal experience, and we can reach out to others and help them in a sustainable, rewarding way.”

Like Kalokoh, Naomi Libraty came to NC State for a unique international experience. But the chance to study at NC State in spring 2021 came at an opportune time: Libraty’s classes at France’s SKEMA Business School had gone fully online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Classes at NC State were a mix of in-person, online and hybrid options.

“I wanted to be in face-to-face classes and meet new people,” she said. 

Through classes and clubs she met students from all different cultures. On campus, she soaked up sunshine at Hunt Library and Carmichael Gym.

“The campus is beautiful,” Libraty said. “In Paris, libraries are cold and don’t have nice lighting. Here, everything is open.” She recommends every international student explore campus as much as possible. 

Naomi Libraty speaks with International Programs Specialist Becky Cibulskis outside at a table in the Global Courtyard on campus.
Naomi Libraty speaks with International Programs Specialist Becky Cibulskis about the Developing Cultural Competence certificate program.

Global Experiences at Home

Paige Baxter, a senior studying creative writing, already had experience guiding international students when she became an NC State Global Ambassador. Baxter worked at the Intensive English Program, helping students learn English for academic settings and understand American culture. She became a Global Ambassador to learn more cultural perspectives and help others do the same.

“It’s important to realize that you can have a global experience without traveling abroad,” Baxter said. “If you’re interested in a culture, you can study it, learn about it and meet with people who are more knowledgeable than yourself.”

The ambassadors are a diverse group of students from different backgrounds majoring in different fields, and that made programs more impactful. Ambassadors who had studied abroad in Germany helped plan an Oktoberfest event. Students from China helped organize a Chinese New Year festival. Members of the Turkish Student Association helped the ambassadors put on a global film series. 

“All of our students knew other clubs and organizations that we could partner with,” Baxter said. “It ended up that we had several, several resources not just in the Office of Global Engagement but across campus because our ambassadors’ involvement.”

During the pandemic, the Global Ambassadors engaged students of all nationalities, even if they weren’t in Raleigh. They pivoted to provide online opportunities, including a virtual tour of campus during the morning on the East Coast so students in different time zones could feel connected. 

You can have a global experience without traveling abroad.

“One thing that COVID has brought on is this very supportive mindset,” Baxter said. “Everybody is being challenged, so it’s really important to bring together our community. Global means you don’t need to be independent — you can’t be independent. You have to lean on each other and learn from each other.” 

Destination: Prague

Thanks to that global, encouraging mindset, Sarah Phillips made some of her best friends in Prague. Now a senior, Phillips had participated in Prague Connect her freshman year. The program sends incoming freshmen to the NC State European Center in Prague for the fall semester. 

“We had to trust each other right off the bat,” Phillips said. “This was the start of our college experience. Some of us had never flown before or dealt with layovers, and that can be really scary for the first time, especially if it’s your first time away from home.”

But despite challenges like culture shock and homesickness, Phillips calls that semester the best experience ever. Her classes were taught by Czech professors and showed students history up close and personal. On weekends, she would travel outside of the city. 

Sarah Phillips and four other NC State students take a picture overlooking the Church of St. James in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic.
Sarah Phillips, left, and other NC State students explored the Czech Republic during their Prague Connect program, including the town Kutna Hora.

“When I would come back to Prague, I would think, “OK, I’m home,’” Phillips said. “I never took a day for granted there. It really is one of the best memories of my life. I’m only 21 — but it was such a meaningful experience.” 

When she came back to the United States and started her spring semester at NC State’s Raleigh campus, she and her classmates experienced another round of culture shock. But they had become extremely close living and studying in Prague together, and that friendship carried them through the rest of their studies.

I never took a day for granted.

“We shared such a special connection and bond,” Phillips said. “Once we got back to State, I had mixed emotions, but we had to lean on each other again because it was another big transition.”

Now, Phillips is an office assistant with the Office of International Services and helps lead NC State’s English Conversation Club. For her, global engagement is a vital part of the Wolfpack. 

“It gives me such a different perspective of life,” Phillips said. “This world is so big. I’ve met so many different people who lived totally different lives than me, and that is so cool.”

This post was originally published in NC State News.