August 18, 2014

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

International Students Tour South Georgia Area

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University’s Center for International Programs hosted a South Georgia Tour Saturday, Aug. 16, for new, incoming international students. Fifteen exchange students from the United Kingdom, Sweden, France, Poland, South Korea, Germany, and Japan participated in this first-time endeavor.

Irina B. McClellan, assistant director of VSU’s Center for International Programs and coordinator of the university’s Study Abroad Program, noted that the purpose of the tour was to welcome these students to the United States, particularly South Georgia, and help them learn more about their new home away from home. She said that the tour was also a way for local students to show hospitality to the exchange students and to share a part of their culture with them.

Gavin S. Merwin, a sophomore finance and marketing double major from Adel who participated in his very first study abroad experience over the 2014 summer in St. Petersburg, Russia, organized the South Georgia Tour with assistance from Natalie K. Tanner, a student assistant in the VSU Center for International Programs and an experienced study abroad participant.  

“One of the great things I learned while studying abroad was that education doesn’t — and shouldn’t, I might add — just be about textbook knowledge,” he said.

“… I am convinced that every [American] student should be required to do some sort of travel outside of the United States before graduating from college. I have a new appreciation of the United States.

“In addition, and on a different note, you also learn through other countries’ cultures that, at the end of the day, people are just people, and everyone deserves the same amount of love as the next guy.

“With all these things in mind, I wanted to help [international] students appreciate a piece of American history and culture that I am very familiar with. We live in a great country, and I wanted to lead this tour to help these [international] students learn about themselves like I did abroad while learning about someone’s culture.”

The South Georgia Tour’s first stop was at the Cook County Historical Society, where the international students learned a bit about local history. The tour then took the students to a tobacco farm, followed by a typical American meal of hamburgers and hotdogs and more at The Hornet’s Nest in Adel. After lunch, the tour continued on to Horse Creek Winery in Nashville, Reed Bingham State Park, and back to Adel to view the landscape and a greenhouse full of orchids at the home of Kent and Iris Thomas, Merwin’s great-grandparents.

“I focused on locations that I thought would be relative to the students,” explained Merwin, who selected the tour stops with guidance from Jerry Connell, president of the Cook County Chamber of Commerce. He said his primary goal with the tour was to introduce the international students to slices of true Southern culture and pride. 

Tanner said she hopes the international students walked away from the South Georgia Tour understanding the importance of a small town — like Valdosta, Adel, Morven, and Nashville — to the rest of the world.

“For the ones that come from big cities, they will see that even though the towns are small everyone still has what they need,” shared the senior international business major from Amelia Island, Fla., “and that’s what’s important.”

Contact the Center for International Program at (229) 333-7410 to learn more.

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Valdosta State University’s 2013-2019 Strategic Plan represents a renewal of energy and commitment to the foundational principles for comprehensive institutions.

Implementation of the plan’s five goals, along with their accompanying objectives and strategies, supports VSU’s institutional mission and the University System of Georgia’s mission for comprehensive universities. 

The Center for International Program's effort to welcome new, incoming international students and introduce them to the region meets the following goals: 

Goal 1: Recruit, retain, and graduate a quality, diverse student population and prepare students for roles as leaders in a global society.

Goal 3: Promote student, employee, alumni, retiree, and community engagement in our mission.

Goal 4: Foster an environment of creativity and scholarship.

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