Kellis McSparrin of Clinton went to London last summer for the University of Southern Mississippi’s British Studies program, expecting to learn more about the world in one of its premier international cities.
The senior dance major did just that, and now she’s helping spread the word to other students about the benefits of studying abroad.
“Until you travel you just don’t understand the vastness of the world,” she said. “You think you’re going to another country to learn about another culture, but you discover just as much about yourself and your own place in the world.
“I just wish I had taken advantage of this opportunity as a freshman.”
It’s that enthusiasm for the university’s international study abroad and exchange programs that led McSparrin to join Southern Miss International Education’s newly formed student peer advisor program. It includes students who have participated in a study abroad program who advise other students interested in participating in international education programming by sharing their own experiences and insights.
Peer advisors also promote study abroad and exchange programs through marketing and recruitment activities, particularly during International Education Week, and one-on-one in informal settings and in class presentations. They commit to five to eight hours a week for an entire semester or academic year and work flexible hours.
Holly Buckner, manager of international programs at Southern Miss and advisor to the group, said the group plays a valuable role in the university’s mission to provide quality learning experiences at home and abroad.
“For those who want to take advantage of our programs but haven’t traveled extensively or overseas, they can learn from our peer advisors’ firsthand experiences studying abroad and navigating through a different culture and language,” Buckner said.
“They can see that they’re just like them and can do it too.”
Nick Stiles, a junior criminal justice major from Maryland, spent a semester at The Abbey in Pontlevoy, France, last year and looks forward to discussing the many benefits of studying abroad with fellow students.
The Abbey program enables students to spend a semester studying in France’s picturesque Loire Valley, taking a variety of courses taught in English while also learning French.
“Studying abroad gives you a better grasp of the world,” he said. “It makes you think of it as a smaller place, but you don’t know that until you have traveled.”
Spending time in a foreign country also helps one get a true sense of its people and way of life that may be misrepresented in the media or by those who have not spent more time learning about its diversity, Stiles said. He learned there was more to France than its famed capital.
“The French culture is much different than the stereotypes about Paris and rude waiters,” he said. “There are small towns with friendly people, wonderful bakeries and shops. It’s a great place to spend a semester studying and learning.”
For McSparrin, being a peer advisor is like repaying a debt of gratitude. “I want to give back to a program that gave me such an awesome experience,” she said.
To learn more the study abroad peer advisor program contact Buckner at
or call 601.266.6372. To learn more about Southern Miss International Education’s study abroad programs, call 601.266.4344; online, visit www.usm.edu/internationaledu
Southern Miss student Jennie Scrivner, left, a member of the university’s international studies peer advisor group, talks to fellow students Stephanie Gwin of Vicksburg and Emily Hagin of Gulfport about the university’s popular study abroad programs. (Southern Miss photo by David Tisdale)
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.