Claflin University is poised to elevate and transform its globalization agenda with the arrival of Dr. Annette Singleton Jackson, who was appointed director of Global Programs in August. Jackson has more than two decades of higher education experience, including developing and teaching study abroad courses. She has extensive experience in international travel and global learning. In 2016-2017 Jackson was selected as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar to the kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), a small developing country in Southern Africa.
"My focus is infusing globalization throughout the university," said Jackson, who earned her bachelor's degree at Florida A&M University and a doctorate at Florida State University. "Study Abroad will be one of several important initiatives within our overall vision for globalization throughout the University. We will also increase international awareness and involvement among students, faculty, and staff to achieve the University’s goals and objectives. Faculty support will be critical because they develop the academic curriculums."
Jackson's goal is to establish partnerships that will provide scholarships to expand Study Abroad opportunities for Claflin students, faculty, and staff. She believes that all members of the campus community who meet the program's criteria should be able to participate.
"We want to connect students with study abroad scholarships and paid opportunities so all students can participate regardless of their incomes. Any student can apply, including continuing education students," Jackson said.
After an almost three-year hiatus due to COVID-19, Claflin resumed Study Abroad travel during the summer of 2022. Dr. Catherine L. Adams, associate professor of African American Studies, explored the U.S. Virgin Islands with two students and Dr. Jason Youngkeit, associate professor of Spanish, traveled to Puerto Rico with 10 students as part of a Spanish Immersion Program. Students were encouraged to speak Spanish everywhere they went - at their hotels, to taxi drivers, to wait staff at restaurants, and wherever they traveled each day.
Otiana Thompson, a senior from Columbia, S.C., with a double major in history and Africana Studies, and Lauren Tolbert, a senior from Chattanooga, Tenn., also majoring in Africana Studies, accompanied Adams to the Virgin Islands. Thompson is Claflin's current Student Government Association (SGA) president. She succeeded Tolbert, who was SGA president in 2021-2022.
"The main value was recognizing that the world is bigger than what you're used to, that it is vast and that can be purposeful," said Thompson of her week-long stay in the Virgin Islands of the United States.
The months that travel was restricted because of the global pandemic weighed heavily on Claflin faculty, and perhaps even more so, on students.
“Students were always saying, ‘We want to travel. When are you going to organize a trip?’” said Youngkeit. “They were hungry for it. It was great to finally get back out there. Study Abroad really is an integral part of foreign language.”
Although Youngkeit is an associate professor of Spanish, most of the students who went to the Spanish-speaking island were from other disciplines at Claflin.
Maurice Moore, a senior mass communication major, is a progeny of a military family. Although he has lived in California, Mississippi, North Carolina, and most recently, Texas, Moore had never traveled outside the contiguous United States until he accepted Youngkeit's invitation to travel to Puerto Rico. Motivated and encouraged by his parents, Moore signed on. He didn't know any of the other nine students on the trip, but they were also integral to his successful travels.
"They pushed me to do something every day," Moore said. "I might not have been interested in going, but just staying in my hotel room. But they said 'nah, nah, come on, we're going, and I did. "The whole trip expanded my horizon and helped me get a good picture of what other places could also look like now that I've seen Puerto Rico. I really loved it."
The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are both United States territories. While in those two territories located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, students were able Kayak at night on the narrow straits of Laguna Grande, one of Puerto Rico’s three bioluminescent bays illuminated by the twinkling glow of thousands of microscopic one-celled dinoflagellates. Only five bioluminescent bays exist in the world. They also explored 16th-century Spanish colonial forts in Puerto Rico; rode horseback in the hills and dales of St. Croix; sampled local cuisine; and toured the ruins of 1700s sugar factories in the Virgin Islands.
Students returned home and are now back at Claflin with memories predicted to last the rest of their lives and experiences that will, for some, shape the trajectory of their careers.
Adams said that she, Thompson, Tolbert, and possibly other Claflin "ambassadors" will likely be asked to return to the U.S. Virgin Islands during the 2022-2023 year to present at an upcoming Caribbean conference. Tolbert hopes to continue traveling abroad, and she looks forward to returning to the Caribbean. She has a 20-year plan to ultimately spend 10 years teaching African American/Africana studies, earn a law degree, and then run for Congress to help focus the U.S. government on providing more educational equity "across the board."
"The trip helped me to see that my purpose is bigger than what my culture looks like, that I am a part of the diaspora that binds us; that we're technically all in this together," Thompson said. "There are just so many people I want to know, to connect with; so many roots that I haven't connected with."