CPCC Study Abroad program opens minds and opportunities

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By: Meg Haskins
Photos courtesy of: Carmen Culpepper

Donna Apgar has a vision. Apgar sits tucked away in a tiny, hidden office crowded with pictures of her travels.

Her wall and door are covered with brochures announcing upcoming events in French, colors of the French flag (blue, white and red) and even little framed pictures that were a gift from an alumni of one of her trips to France.

Donna Apgar has a vision. She hopes to inspire others to have an adventure like she did on her first trip to Europe, as a 21-year-old student traveling with a friend many years ago.

Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva, Switzerland--A view of the Swiss pride down the narrow, winding streets

Apgar, director of Language Learning Technology and Study Abroad at CPCC wants to get the message out to students and the Charlotte community that the Study Abroad Summer Immersion Program is available to them.

Apgar says that each summer for about five years now, a CPCC instructor accompanies a group of students and community members to Mexico, France and Germany.

All upcoming details for the Study Abroad program can be found on their website.

During their four to five-week stay, the participants are immersed in the surrounding culture and attend a local language school. Participants also live individually with a host family during their stay, Apgar says.

Participants have climbed the Alps, gone whitewater rafting, hiked in Germany, seen the Mayan ruins in Mexico and lived in a medieval town in France, Apgar said. “There are a lot of excursions on all of the trips,” said Apgar.

Chamonix Mont Blanc

At the top of France's Chamonix Mon Blanc, elevation 15, 771 ft.

Apgar stressed that the program is not only available to students of CPCC but to any interested citizens in the community, such as teachers, law enforcement, healthcare workers, just to name a few, who could benefit from the immersion experience.

Diana Rojas, a CPCC student and participant for the summer 2005 French in France program, said it was a dream comes true for her. Rojas said it was everything she expected and then some.

Rojas said she had invested about $5,000 in the trip that lasted five weeks. “The amount of money I had to pay sometimes makes my eyes water just thinking about it, but try your hardest to go,” said Rojas. “You’ll never regret it.”

Eiffel Tower

Carmen Culpepper enjoys an evening in Paris at the Eiffel Tower.

Rojas went on excursions to places like Marseilles, Chamonix, Geneve, went whitewater rafting, and still wishes she could have done more. Rojas said she would definitely recommend for others to go to any country of interest to them.

Scott Robertson, college transfer student, participated in Spanish in Mexico in the summer of 2005. Robertson said, “It opens your eyes to different views.”

Robertson lived with a host family and said the food was wonderful. Robertson’s host dad was a commercial fisherman, and his host mom was a great cook. He ate lots of healthy, fresh fish dishes.

Robertson played games like stick ball and hide and seek with his two “little sisters” in Mexico. Many similarities exist between cultures, which help to build unity, said Robertson.

He had a good mix of exposure, understanding of phonetics and pronunciation, and a respect of the language. “Language school was like a tropical cabana, except for the mosquitoes,” said Robertson.

Karin Guardalabene, discipline chair for German at CPCC, accompanies participants to Germany each summer. Guardalabene said she takes the group to Hamburg, in the North of Germany, because it offers culture, history, and things to do.

Participants can travel by boat to see the oldest parts of the city and explore the metropolis, Guardalabene said. Hamburg is close enough to the coast to travel there on the weekend, so participants spent time on the beach and visited some fishing villages and other small towns, rich in history, she said.

Donna Apgar’s vision is to see the Study Abroad program grow, with an official office, a full-time director, and a secretary. Apgar wants to expand the program, so that every division at CPCC could participate, inspiring students of music, art, business, history, drama, culinary and more.

Apgar also wants to expand scholarships. “A lot of students would like to go, but don’t have the funds,” said Apgar.

Market Day

Market Day in Annecy, France.

She points out that many within Charlotte’s diverse business community could benefit from the program, as well. One of Apgar’s ideas includes trying to build a network with Charlotte’s Sister Cities program.

Next summer, CPCC will offer a new Executive Program in Mexico for two weeks, geared more towards business people who may not have as much room for time off, said Apgar.

Apgar said it has been heartwarming for her to share a life changing experience with many of these participants. “Traveling opens your imagination, your mind, your creative spirit and makes you a deeper, more appreciative and more confident person,” Apgar said.