More JJC Students Make Study Abroad Part of Their College Experience

When George Pitsoulakis of Homer Glen went to Japan in June as part of the study abroad program at Joliet Junior College, he saw something that he would never forget.

“The castles at the top of the mountains in Japan are truly majestic,” he said. “When you get to the top, you get a great view. It was truly a humbling experience.”

From Asia to Africa and Europe to South America, more students like Pitsoulakis are gaining an understanding of life outside the United States through JJC’s study abroad program.

George along with another JJC student spent an entire weekend with a Japanese family during his study abroad trip to Japan.

During his trip, Pitsoulakis learned about globalization through his International Studies 101 class at Ehime University, a school that JJC has a partnership with in Matsuyama, Japan. While he was there, he also had an opportunity to stay with a Japanese family for a weekend and travel to other cities in Japan like Kyoto, Tokyo and Hiroshima.

Pitsoulakis said studying abroad was truly an eye-opening experience – and it took his education and personal goals in a new direction.

“Being 6,000-plus miles away from home gave me the experience to see how different people live their lives from Americans,” he said. “Often times, we can get caught up in our personal lives, and forget that there is so much to explore. Experiences like this are what make life truly special.”

According to JJC Coordinator of International Education Tamara Brattoli, approximately 12 JJC students study abroad each year. This year, a record number of 33 students participated in these opportunities. Brattoli said that the increase is due to the popularity of the short-term faculty led programs.

“Prior to 2012, when our Japan program started, we would have about three students annually go abroad,” Brattoli, said. “However, with the addition of our short-term programs to China, Japan, and Guatemala, this number has doubled the number of students who are studying abroad.”

Brattoli said that not only can JJC students earn credit hours during their study abroad trips, but they may also be able to use financial aid and scholarships to help pay for the trip.

This year, Marina Griffin, a forensic pathology major, studied abroad in China and Japan debt-free, thanks in part to the U.S. State Department’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. Gilman scholars receive up to $5,000 to apply toward study abroad or internship program costs. The program offers grants for U.S. citizen undergraduate students of limited financial means to pursue academic studies or internships abroad, gain a better understanding of other cultures, countries, languages and economies­­­­–making them better prepared to assume leadership roles within government and the private sector.

“Receiving the Gilman scholarship really means the world to me,” Griffin said. “I feel very fortunate, blessed and overwhelmingly lucky to have received such a scholarship.”

Marina admires the view during her study abroad in China.

Griffin said that without the support of JJC faculty, she would have never thought about studying abroad.

“I am blessed to have met Tamara Brattoli, who introduced me to the Gilman Scholarship and the study abroad program here at JJC. With her help and support, I was able to make my study abroad dream a reality.”

Griffin also attributes her success to English and World Languages professor and tour guide in China, Michael Hainzinger.

“Without taking Mike’s classes and his helpful YouTube channel, I would have never had this experience to learn Mandarin. Thanks to him, I am learning to speak a language that 16% of the world’s population speaks. That is nearly 1.2 billion people. This experience has absolutely changed my life and I can’t thank him enough.”

Read Five Things You Didn’t Know About JJC Professor Mike Hainzinger here.

Overall, Griffin said studying abroad has taught her a lot about herself.

“On this trip, I got the chance to teach English to a class of kindergarteners with three of my friends at the age of 20 years old. I never thought that I would have an experience like this alone, not to mention so young.”

Read more firsthand accounts of what it was like studying abroad in China this summer here.

According to, the average student in the United States chooses to study abroad in his or her junior year. Thanks to JJC, there are study abroad opportunities for freshmen and sophomores, and because JJC is a community college, it’s often cheaper.

In addition to the three-week study abroad trip to Japan and China every summer, JJC offers study abroad opportunities in Austria, Costa Rica, England, France, Ireland, Spain and more. The college works with the Illinois Consortium for International Studies and Programs (ICISP), so if a student wants to study somewhere that JJC does not specifically offer, they can do so through the ICISP.

“As a campus, JJC wants to broaden students’ minds and show them how there are so many different cultures that you can experience,” Brattoli said. “There’s much more outside of where you are now. There’s so much more to see.”

For more information about study abroad programs at JJC, visit, or contact Brattoli at

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