Two students from the United Kingdom are studying at the University of North Georgia for a year through the Georgia Rotary Student Program (GRSP), which brings international college students to study in Georgia at one of more than 30 universities.
Supported by Rotary clubs around the state, the GRSP program has brought more than 3,300 students from 107 countries to the United States since its inception in 1946. Rebecca Overthrow of Wales and Ashlie McIvor of Scotland, both 2013 participants in the GRSP program, are among some 185 international students attending UNG this semester, representing 39 countries and every continent except Antarctica. Additionally, more than 200 UNG students study abroad each year, taking advantage of the university's strategic vision to help students become globally competent citizens.
McIvor said she wanted to study in the United States to experience something new.
"I love to travel – I love seeing new things and being new places. I love experiencing new cultures," she said.
Dr. Donna Gessell, professor of English, and Dr. Richard Oates, associate provost for academic administration, are hosting GRSP students attending UNG and Brenau University in Gainesville this year. Host families are active Rotarians responsible for the health, engagement and Rotary interaction of the international students. Oates belongs to the Rotary Club of Gainesville and Gessell to the Dahlonega Sunrise Rotary Club.
"When you're asked to open your heart and your home, you bond immediately with the student," Oates said. "The conversations we have had – whether political or social or about sports or festivals – the different perspectives, the different terminology, and the discovery process are what make being a host so gratifying."
Rotary is a service organization and GRSP serves by promoting ambassadorship with the mission of "world peace through understanding." GRSP students are closely affiliated with their host family's club and participate in service projects throughout their year-long stay.
"Looking at my world and my life through someone else's eyes who has had a different cultural upbringing and experience is very enriching," said Gessell, who previously has hosted international students through the Rotary program. "It's a mutual, reciprocal relationship, really. As they help you understand your own world more deeply, you're also helping them to see things in a new way."
GRSP students are required to live on campus at their respective universities and take full class loads. Students spend some weekends traveling to different areas of Georgia; so far, GRSP students hosted by local clubs have visited downtown Savannah and a farm in Henry County.
In addition, Overthrow and McIvor are involved in UNG's Rotaract Club chapter, a club that is part of Rotary International, with membership exclusive to people ages 18 to 30. The two have participated in several events with Rotaract and Rotary.
"The Six-Gap Mile cycling race was September 29, and we gave out water and things to help out, and worked with the Rotarians and community members," Overthrow said. "We've also done things with the battered women's shelter, No One Alone. And this year, a major project will be providing clean water to Haiti; we're doing fundraising for that as well."
In addition to Rotaract and study abroad opportunities, UNG also offers degree programs in 10 world languages and international affairs. UNG supports a number of international initiatives, including the Cadet English Language Training Team (CELTT), which includes 1,300 cadets from around the country and the Federal Service Language Academy, which offers intensive language instruction to high school students. In 2011, UNG was designated an ROTC flagship university to instruct cadets in Chinese.