Education Without Borders
Adventist Colleges Abroad Celebrates 50 Years
By Sandra Blackmer
Living in Spain and studying to become a Spanish teacher were not Anne Leah D. Guía’s original career goals.
“I wanted to be a doctor,” says Guía, a junior at La Sierra University (LSU) in Riverside, California, United States. “I took Spanish classes in academy and college, and my Spanish teacher kept telling me I should go to Spain. But I wondered, Why? I’m going to be a doctor.
Guía finally succumbed to her teacher’s pleas and applied to the Adventist Colleges Abroad (ACA) program to study at the Spanish Adventist Seminary (formerly Sagunto Adventist College) in Valencia, Spain. She first signed up for the 2009 summer program, but before the six-week course had ended, her life plans had changed.
“I loved it!” Guía says. “I returned for the 2010-2011 school year, and I’m now planning to teach Spanish.”
Even though she had taken three years of Spanish, Guía says she had difficulty understanding the language when she first arrived in Spain. It was living among Spanish-speaking people and studying the language full-time, she says, that made the difference.
BOGENHOFEN: ACA school director Gabriele Vogel (center, wearing white jacket) poses with her students on cannonballs while visiting a local castle.“You’re immersed in Spanish here,” she notes. “Sometimes I even think in Spanish now. It’s been a great experience.”
Half a century ago 90 students together with music and language professor John Hamilton from LSU traveled to the French Adventist Seminary in Collonges-sous-Salève, about five miles from Geneva across the Swiss-French border, for the first-ever ACA program. Hamilton stayed with the students the entire year as they studied the French language and its culture. According to current ACA program director Odette Ferreira, that number of students has never been topped.
“It was the first and last time that that many students went abroad just from one school to one school,” Ferreira says.
Today a total of 350 to 400 students from North America study abroad each year through ACA summer and full-year programs. Seven ACA tertiary institutions offer full-year courses:
- Adventist University of France (formerly Salève Adventist University), Colonges-sous-Saleve, France
- Brazil Adventist University, São Paulo, Brazil
- Bogenhofen Seminary, Bogenhofen, Austria
- Friedensau Adventist University, Friedensau, Germany
- Italian Adventist College, Villa Aurora, Florence, Italy
- River Plate Adventist University, Villa Libertador, San Martin, Argentina
- Spanish Adventist Seminary (formerly Sagunto Adventist College, still commonly called Sagunto), Valencia, Spain
Top to bottom: Friedensau Adventist
University; Salève Adventist University;
Bogenhofen SeminaryFerreira has served as ACA director for 15 years. She speaks six languages: French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. She holds a master’s in Philology (the science of language), and a doctorate in Linguistics applied to Latin languages.
“I love ACA,” Ferreira says. “ACA is my life.”
The six-week summer curriculum is geared for beginners and focuses exclusively on learning the language. It’s “almost like a brainwash in the language so the student in a short time gets enough knowledge to be able to communicate,” Ferreira says.
Classes in addition to language are offered during the school year. Depending on the school, these include literature, culture, history, and art pertaining to that country. Villa Aurora in Italy is currently adding classes in international and European law, and human rights in Europe.
“The programs must meet the academic requirements of the U.S. universities as well as conform to the rules of the European Convention,” Ferreira notes. “The courses also prepare the students for examinations required by the state universities in that country. Taking these examinations is optional, but students who do take them and pass receive a diploma that opens up the language and teaching opportunities for them anywhere in the world.”
All Adventist universities in the U.S. are members of the ACA North American Consortium. Six boast a language department and are particularly active in the program: Andrews University(AU), La Sierra University (LSU), Oakwood University (OU), Pacific Union College (PUC),Southern Adventist University (SAU), and Walla Walla University (WWU). Canadian University College also participates, but financial aid for students who go abroad is not as readily available from the Canadian government, which reduces the number of students who can afford to study outside their home country. These tertiary institutions assist students with applying to the ACA schools, and accept the credits earned during the year abroad. LSU—perhaps because of its history with the program—particularly recognizes the accomplishments of ACA graduates by providing them with a graduation sash embroidered with the flag of the country in which they studied.
“The ACA program is one of the best examples of a synergetic connection between colleges,” says Larry Blackmer, chair of the ACA board and vice president for education for the North American Division. “The program provides students at U.S. colleges with enough credit hours for them to earn a major or a minor in a language, without the cost to the American schools of hiring additional language professors. And smaller Adventist colleges, such as those in Europe, are given a boost with their yearly enrollments. Everyone comes out a winner—particularly the students who learn not only a second language but how people live and communicate in a culture very different from their own.”
What Do the Students Think?
Each ACA school is unique in its culture and surroundings; they also differ in their rules. Some lean toward traditional dorm policies that include curfews and dorm room restrictions regarding media—television, Internet access, and so forth; others are more lenient. But these variations don’t seem to affect the overall experience of the ACA students.
“The atmosphere and the close-knit classes and the relationships you build here—they’re unforgettable,” says J. C. Carreon (LSU), who attended Bogenhofen in Austria during the 2010-2011 school year. “The teachers encourage us; they really want to see us succeed. It’s like a family away from home.”
Another plus of Bogenhofen, students say, is its central location to the rest of Europe. With a train station within walking distance and situated only a few hours’ travel time from cities such as Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Munich, the students can get in a lot of sightseeing. Campus diversity also adds to the experience. About 20 nationalities are represented among the total student body of 150.
Top to bottom: Villa Aurora Italian Adventist College.Jeff Stahlnecker (WWU), an ACA student at Friedensau in Germany, says he immediately felt accepted on campus and got involved. “People are really open and easy to talk to,” he says. Stahlnecker conceded that the seclusion of Friedensau, which is nestled in a forest, is sometimes a challenge. “It’s a long distance to the nearest town,” he says. He compensated by taking up mountain biking. “There’s also a ropes course and lots of sports and other activities to get involved with,” he says. Twice-weekly bus trips into the nearest town and once a month to Berlin also help dispel any feelings of isolation.
The opportunity to travel throughout Europe is one of the leading draws of study abroad. During the past school year ACA students at Villa Aurora in Italy, participated in more than 10 ACA trips. Among those were visits to Venice, Sicily, Naples, Milan, and Rome. Travel to other European countries on weekends and during school breaks is convenient and inexpensive. Flights on some airlines within the European Union are as low as 20 euros (US$28.62) one way.
“If you want to learn something about yourself, live for a while in a foreign country,” Timothy Hucks (AU), of Rochester, New York, says. “You find out what things you take for granted. The way you live your life is entirely different from the way they live theirs. You learn things—how to slow down, how to change for other people.”
Villa Aurora is particularly historic. The oldest building on campus, which serves as the girls’ dormitory and the cafeteria, is centuries old. Following World War II the school property and original three buildings were purchased with funds from the Adventist Church’s Thirteenth Sabbath Offering.
The school’s ACA director, Antonietta Riviello, says that art is one of Villa Aurora’s leading inducements. “Seventy percent of the entire world’s art is in Italy,” she says.
Californian Casey Bartlett (PUC), who attended Sagunto in Spain, described his time abroad as eye-opening. “Sometimes we live in a small box, but when you open that box, you realize that there’s so much more out there,” he says.
Spanish Adventist Seminary ACA director Juan Antonio López has worked at the college for more than 40 years. The ACA program has been in existence there for about 30 years. López advises students who are considering study abroad to learn the basics of the language beforehand, and to plan not to speak English on campus.
“They must immerse themselves in the language while here,” López says. “Listen to radio stations in Spanish. Surf Spanish sites on the Internet. And don’t be afraid of making friends or making mistakes.”
Kenneth Wright of Florida attended Sagunto College as an ACA student during the 1993-1994 school year. This was followed by a summer at Southeast Asia Union College in Singapore. “It was the best year of my college experience,” he says. Now a sales representative for Medtronic Neuromodulation, Wright describes being fluent in Spanish as a “tremendous asset” for his career. “The cultural immersion and international travel provided a fresh perspective of myself and the world we live in,” he says.
Eliel Cruz-López (AU) spent the 2010-2011 school year at the Adventist University of France in Collonges. He describes the location as “wonderful. When you wake up in the morning and see Lake Geneva out your window—it’s just gorgeous.” He does miss some of the comforts and conveniences of home, though, including his car and cell phone.
Top to Bottom:
GRADUATION HONOR: La Sierra University provides ACA student graduates with a sash embroidered with the flag of the country in which they studied.
River Plate Adventist University;
Spanish Adventist Seminary (Sagunto).For André Murray (AU), of Orlando, Florida, Collonges’ biggest plus is the diversity among teachers. “One is Polish, one is French, and another is German,” Murray says. “They all have different outlooks and teaching styles, which help when you incorporate that into learning a different language, because you’re not just learning it from a textbook.”
Collonges ACA director Daniela Gelbrich says another perk of ACA is that students live in an Adventist environment with others who share the same beliefs and values. She adds that Collonges is “a beautiful campus in the heart of Europe. We are at the feet of the Alps. Students can ski and snowboard in the winter and hike and go rock climbing in the summer. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
With a total enrollment of some 3,000 students, River Plate in Argentina is the largest of the ACA schools. Between 50 to 80 ACA students attend there each year. The program has been part of its curriculum since 1995, and the school’s ACA director, Haroldo Brouchy, has been intricately involved for most of that time.
“The skill of speaking Spanish fluently as a second language opens up a broad range of career opportunities,” Brouchy says. “There is a great need of Spanish translators and interpreters, especially in the U.S., and it can provide more opportunities to serve the church in various parts of the world.” Brouchy also emphasizes the advantages of being part of a globalized, multicultural society: greater divergent thinking, and an increased understanding of, and compassion for, other cultures.
Jeena Foronda (SAU), of North Potomac, Maryland, spent last school year at River Plate. She describes each day she spent there as a new adventure.
“There was so much to learn and discover,” she says. “Letting myself open up and soak in a new and different culture was an opportunity I will never regret or forget.”
Ferreira concurs with Brouchy that the benefits of study abroad are not exclusive to those who want to be language teachers. Having a year of foreign study on a résumé can open unexpected doors, as well. One former ACA student—now a lawyer—who attended Bogenhofen for two years told Ferreira that he initially was ac-cepted into Yale University because of his study abroad. Administration, he said, cited his years in Austria as the entry that grabbed their attention.
Ferreira’s own son, she says, obtained a high-ranking position at the United Nations because of his ability to speak more than one language.
“Language is very important nowadays,” Ferreira says. “We have to think in terms of jobs and not just academics. Many of today’s church leaders are former ACA students, so knowing more than one language is useful in all fields of life—including service to a global church.” n
To learn more about Adventist Colleges Abroad, go to www.aca-noborders.org, or call the ACA office at the North American Division headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, at 301-680-6444.
Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of Adventist World and lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.