The world is at the fingertips of Southern Oregon University students.
With more study abroad opportunities than ever before, adventurous students can head to class in just about any country in the world.
"Wherever you want to go, we could figure something out," said Mary Gardiner, education abroad director for SOU.
Students can participate in exchange programs with other universities, taking classes for a month, a term or a full year. Usually 80 to 100 SOU students are abroad at some point each year.
The university has partnerships that offer direct exchanges in several countries, allowing students to pay SOU tuition when they travel abroad to places like South Korea, England and Germany.
"It so much easier to pull off now," said Liz Morgan-Beesley, an SOU graduate student and peer adviser for the study abroad program.
Morgan-Beesley traveled to Germany as an undergraduate six years ago with an SOU-affiliated program, and said the experienced helped her become an adult.
"When you live in the U.S. you only have a sense of your own country and culture. When you get back you have a sense that the world is smaller — but it's a good realization," said Morgan-Beesley, now 27.
Though she had taken German classes for ten years, Morgan-Beesley said it wasn't until she immersed herself in a German internship that she felt fluent in the language.
Her favorite parts of Germany were experiencing Oktoberfest and enjoying German hot springs — called "badens."
"It's the equivalent of the (Jackson) Wellsprings, but everywhere," she said. "The forests and the green in Germany reminded me very much of Oregon. It felt at home even though I was abroad."
She was able to travel through Europe during semester breaks in Germany, and began collecting decorative pins to represent each destination. By now she's probably traveled to about a dozen countries, Morgan-Beesley said.
She's stayed fluent in German through periodic calls to her former host mother, and has surprisingly met many Germans who travel through the Rogue Valley.
Morgan-Beesley helps prospective study abroad students decide where and how they want to study abroad, and said programs to England's University of Winchester are some of the most popular.
"It's very competitive, and very popular," said Morgan-Beesley, adding that the two universities have a direct exchange program that allows a handful of SOU students to go on exchange while still paying SOU tuition.
"The size of the two universities is very similar," said Alan Grattan, a program leader for the University of Winchester's criminology department.
Grattan visited SOU this week to speak to students about the benefits of studying abroad, and said the criminology programs at both schools complement each other well.
"It's an ideal fit," said Grattan. "The syllabus is very comparable."
Morgan-Beesley, who is working toward a master's in international education and nonprofit management, plans to return to Germany this summer, for the first time since her study abroad.
She'll complete an internship through SOU and research whether it would be a good internship program for other students.
"My heart will always be in Germany," said Morgan-Beesley, who is looking forward to going back.
For students wanting the opportunity to visit another school without traveling internationally, SOU also participates in the National Student Exchange, which allows students to travel to U.S. universities for a set period while staying enrolled at SOU.
Gardiner said exchange programs of any kind offer students the ability to alter their perceptions.
"It opens your mind and broadens your perspective. You get outside your comfort zone," she said.
Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.