New Frontiers

"Around the World in 80 Days" takes study abroad a step further

KENNESAW, Ga. (Feb 1, 2017) — The 11 students who recently returned from a pioneering, semester-long education abroad experience — “Around the World in 80 Days” (AW80) — were part of a bold experiment that took them to four continents, pushing global education at Kennesaw State to higher levels.

With their study and travels in Italy, Morocco, Australia and Cuba, the students – many of them first-time study abroad participants – amassed a wealth of knowledge and understanding of diverse cultures and of themselves. When Kennesaw State hosts its fourth annual International Achievement Awards in April, they will be introduced as Kennesaw State’s newest “global ambassadors.”

Ivan Stavrev, a junior majoring in international business, expects the experience to help with his major and as he considers future international careers. He said he gained better insight into some of the topics that have been discussed in his classes.

“My understanding of the world has expanded tremendously,” Stavrev said. “The lectures I’d heard on communism, Islam, and other topics did not make sense before I went on this trip. I learned that people who have different opinions and beliefs should respect each other and understand why their views differ.”

As they reflect on the experiences, some of the students found they grew in their worldviews, global understanding and in very personal ways as well.

International affairs major Rachel Mendenhall gained a new appreciation for her status as an American citizen.

“I realized how privileged I am to be born in America,” she said. “Though I enjoyed every place I was in and fell in love with all the cultures we were experiencing, I really started to appreciate the U.S. more. We have so many more opportunities and freedoms that so many other places do not have. I realized how much I enjoy America’s customs and culture.”

For Kelly Riedesel, a sophomore majoring in finance, the chance to experience four different continents put her in a privileged class of travelers and reinforces her career goals.

“It was amazing to get to see four different countries in the time period when most people spend their whole trip in one country,” she said. “This trip confirmed that I love to travel and that I would like to travel with my future career. I learned lot about working with other people in all kinds of tough situations. I also know how to step up to get through tough moments.”

Joining Starev, Mendenhall and Riedesel were fellow students Tionna Boddie, Siobhan Britt, Richard Hobbs, Anna Holland, Hannah Schindewolf, Calista Sewell, Brooklyn Unitas and Maxwell Volino.

AW80The students’ observations are exactly what the “Around the World in 80 Days” planners were hoping for when they envisioned Kennesaw State’s first long-term, multi-country study abroad.

Conceived as an intensive, multi-disciplinary study by Lance Askildson, vice provost and head of Kennesaw State’s Division of Global Affairs, AW80 relied on eight faculty members who team-taught the 12 hours of general education courses students completed during the program. The courses were specially designed for each country: Science, Society and Environment in Italy; International and Global Studies in Australia; World Literature in Morocco; and International Political Economy in Cuba.

Omar Cherif Diop, an associate professor of English who co-taught the world literature class in Morocco, praised the program and its staff for their “unparalleled professionalism and support to both faculty and students.” 

“I can unequivocally say that the AW80 was masterfully designed and deployed in Morocco,” said Diop, who helped coordinate a similar program for the World Bank in 1997. The in-house briefings and numerous activities on the ground showed how diligent, detail-oriented, and well-prepared the DGA team was.”

Diop was especially complimentary to the students who participated in the program, noting their enthusiasm for learning new cultures. 

"My students were superb,” he said. “They were always well-prepared for class in spite of their very busy daily schedules. It was with joy and pride that I observed them interact with their Moroccan peers, guides, vendors, etc. The warm, joking relationship we had with Moroccan nationals at souks, restaurants, and parks says a lot about how we can embrace our fellow human beings without prejudice.”

The students and faculty were supported by Education Abroad staff who served as site managers as students visited multiple locations in each country. Their itinerary included Rome, Montepulciano and Florence in Italy; Ifrane, Fez and Casablanca in Morocco; Sydney, Brisbane and Agnes Water in Australia; and Havana, Cuba. As a bonus, students were able to fit in day trips to Dubai and Spain due to changing travel logistics as they departed Australia and Morocco.

“AW80 was a tremendous undertaking that drew on the skills and expertise of an extensive team committed to delivering a high-quality global learning experience that was safe and enjoyable for the students,” Askildson said. “We were very fortunate to be able to leverage our partnerships with institutions in Morocco and Italy, and blaze new territory and relationships in Australia and Cuba, because these were destinations students indicated a desire to study.”

The students spent 21 days in each country, with 10 of those days devoted to coursework and the remainder to carefully selected co-curricular activities and travel. The entire experience cost each student about $11,300, which covered program fees and tuition. They were able to apply financial aid and receive student-funded global learning scholarships.    

The program represented “totally out-of-the-box thinking” compared to Kennesaw State’s existing education abroad offerings, according to Iyonka Strawn-Valcy, director of education abroad and exchanges.

“We were looking to develop something new — something that would stretch our education abroad program offerings in new directions,” she said. “We relied heavily on feedback we received in frequent surveys of students’ international program preferences. I think we succeeded, especially considering the diversity of learning experiences and the costs, which were considerably less than in two similar programs we found nationwide.”

During a debriefing when students returned, they reflected and commented openly, giving DGA staff an earful.

“They were not shy about sharing their feedback,” Strawn-Valcy said. “We learned a lot about the successes and challenges of the program model, which we can take forward to enhance and continue to improve the experience for students.” 

Plans are underway, and recruitment will begin in spring 2017 for the next AW80 program in spring 2018.

 — Sabbaye McGriff



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit