In its 50th year of operation, the Adventist Colleges Abroad study program is gearing up for a record-breaking year. Officials say about 400 students are enrolled for the coming school year at international sister colleges, the highest annual enrollment since the program launched in the early 1960s.
Students often report that a year of college in another country was their favorite time in school; so says ACA Director Odette Ferreira, who makes a career of sending Adventist students in North America overseas.
Ferreira said that in half a century, some 18,000 students have participated in the consortium program of Adventist schools in the U.S. loaning their students abroad for a year. Colleges in France and Spain remain popular programs, the schools that first attracted California-based La Sierra University and Pacific Union College students in 1961. ACA launched the following year.
ACA is operated by the North American Division department of Education. Its 13 international programs offer instruction in 14 languages and help boost enrollment of the receiving schools. In recent years, ACA has expanded outside of North America to include students from schools in Australia and Puerto Rico. Now, recruiters in Europe are increasingly marketing the program to students in South America and Asia.
This year also saw the launch of the newest program – Arabic language instruction at Middle East University in Lebanon. Additionally, all programs now offer internships in addition to their academic programs.
In an interview, Ferreira spoke of a behind-the-scenes challenge of adding Lebanon, discussed ACA’s 50-year legacy, and highlighted new and popular programs.
Ferreira, who also serves as the language interpreting coordinator for General Conference Sessions, is fluent in several languages: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. She also speaks some German, Italian and Hebrew.
Adventist News Network: How would you describe why the church continues to invest in ACA?
Odette Ferreira: We need the new generation to be more aware of the need for cross-cultural adaptation, of accepting differences. This is important if you want to work in a globalized world and serve a world church, as our church is. It’s important to pick up not just the language but the cross cultural differences. I always tell students, differences aren’t bad, they’re just differences.
ANN: What’s the most popular language U.S. students want to study?
Ferreira: Spanish. Being fluent in Spanish has helped many students find good jobs after graduation. In Sagunto in Spain this year we had to stop the admission process one month in advance of the deadline. We had already accepted more than 100 students, and it’s a small school. This was the first time we had to do this for a European school. We also had to put a cap once on River Plate University in Argentina. This is a good problem we’re having – too many students for Spanish, but it’s still a problem. We had to temporarily close the program at Montemorelos University in Mexico for safety. Even the university thought it wasn’t a good place for Americans. Safety is our main concern in the program.
ANN: You previously said that Middle East University in Lebanon has asked to join ACA for many years. Why didn’t the program there begin earlier?
Ferreira: Our main reticence for launching there was safety of the students. I lived in Jerusalem for nine years, so I know the Middle East. We’ve taken all kinds of security measures. Students have to sign a document that they can’t do tourism in the traditional sense. The ACA tours there had to be discussed on both sides and approved. The university is very aware of concerns for safety and we trust our students are safe.
ANN: Why did ACA choose to start an Arabic program?
Ferreira: Arabic is becoming one of the most important languages for Americans. The government needs interpreters, for example, and the church, as you know, last year established the Greater Middle East Union to focus on that region. This program is so new that it was approved after our catalogues for this year were printed, but it’s on our website.
ANN: Where do you think you’ll expand next?
Ferreira: We prefer to develop what we have already than to open too many. We recently added Newbold College in England. Students could go there before but now they can receive some financial assistance because of the exchange rate. We would like to have something in Mainland China, but at this point we can’t have an Adventist university there. We have a program for Chinese in Thailand, but Chinese isn’t the main language in the country. So we’re trying to see if we can do something, but being ACA we’re not looking to send students to schools that aren’t Adventist. Two years ago we added Japan. We stopped one year because of the tsunami, but we’ve reopened it.
ANN: What stands out for you at this 50-year anniversary of the program?
Ferreira: We had a booth at the Education department convention this summer and so many people came to us saying how much they enjoyed our program or for their kids. Some were very emotional. Many parents said it was the best year of their kid’s life. We’re also seeing more ACA students who are children and now some grandchildren of students who went through ACA. And many of our leaders and church administrators are ACA alumni.
—for more information, visit www.aca-noborders.org.