Studying abroad: benefits students before and after graduation

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Joey Whitaker, Reporter, @JoeJoeW22 with additional reporting by Nicole Shepard, News Editor, @NicoleEShepard

Each year, groups of students from UVU hop on planes to foreign countries, on their way to study various academic subjects in a culture that is not their own.

“Simple exchanges can break down walls between us, for when people come together and speak to one another and share a common experience, then their common humanity is revealed,” Barack Obama, President of the United States, said. “We are reminded that we’re joined together by our pursuit of a life that’s productive and purposeful, and when that happens, mistrust begins to fade and our smaller differences no longer overshadow the things that we share. And that’s where progress begins.”

Studying abroad is an opportunity that many students dream of taking. Unfortunately, many are not taking the opportunity for various reasons.

The Institute of International Education found that only 9 percent of American undergraduates studied internationally from 2010 to 2011. In a recent poll by the Education Intelligence of the United Kingdom, polling about 11,000 British and American students, 56 percent of Americans said they were considering studying abroad. Between those considering and those actually going abroad, according to the poll, the deficit is created by financial need, a lack of easily accessed information, and lack of familiarity with foreign culture and language.

These problems are not strangers at UVU, especially financial need.

“UVU students do not have a lot of money,” Dr. Michael Minch, director of Peace and Justice Studies and professor of philosophy at UVU, said.  “And leaving their jobs and often families, for a longer period of time, puts the programs out of reach.”

With the economy struggling and most UVU students using loans to pay for school, paying for a few weeks in another country seems like a frivolous expenditure.

“I would tell students that even though the expense seems like a lot of money–and it is—it is not as much as you may think,” Professor Jeff Packer, director of the German Language study abroad program, said. “I promise that in the years after your experience, it will be the one thing you remember most about your time at UVU, and you will have forgotten how much it cost.”

The International and Multicultural Studies Department constantly works to develop new and interesting programs for students to study abroad. The Peace and Justice program alone has multiple established study abroad courses, including ones in Northern Ireland, Haiti and the Middle East. Dr. Minch is creating a new study abroad program in Peace and Justice Studies next summer, which will take students to Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia.

While studying abroad is not a cheap experience, the program directors work to keep students’ expenses in mind.

“The long-term gain of the study abroad experience is worth sacrificing short-term comforts,” Catherine Stephens, co-director of the biology and geology program in Costa Rica, said. “Putting away a little money at a time throughout the year adds up quickly.”

Students will find professors and advisors like Minch sympathetic to their financial needs. Leaders of the study abroad programs can give advice and support in finding funds to pay for the studying abroad experience. They recognize the personal advantages and growth for students in completing a program abroad.

“Students should plan earlier for their study abroad program,” Professor Alex Yuan, director of the Chinese language study abroad, said. “For [the] China Study Abroad program, we have scholarships to offer students [to] offset some cost. I also suggest students apply for some scholarships from some international education organizations, such as Freeman scholarship. They need to plan and start preparation earlier.”

For many students, how the programs will benefit future employment may be a key factor in their decision to commit to international study.

“Because our programs are solutions-oriented, they are quite valuable for the professional development of UVU students and increase their chances of getting into desired graduate programs and entering chosen careers,” Minch said.  “International experience of the kind we offer is now highly sought among employers.”

Students who have attended a study abroad program with UVU have said that their time there was invaluable to their future plans of graduate school and where to enter the work force.

“My experience in Northern Ireland opened my eyes to the many opportunities in my own community where I can make a difference,” Brooke Swallow, a participant in the 2013 Northern Ireland Peace and Justice program, said.

The focusing, or sometimes complete change in direction, that a study abroad experience often offers is a product of the broadening of the students’ empathetic word views.

“Studying abroad is its own reward, and is far more than a chance to travel internationally, see the sights, or send postcards,” Professor Nathan Gorelick, director of the English and Honors study abroad to England, said. “With these programs, students have the opportunity to engage course materials both intellectually and experientially—and therefore to bridge the disconnect between academic work and personal experience that often characterizes a traditional college classroom. This is the essence of engaged learning.”

Students will find programs at UVU that travel to various parts of the world and specialize in subjects across the spectrum. In 2013 students went to Costa Rica, Northern Ireland, Haiti, London and Ghana, studying everything from geology to theatre.

This summer a group of students studying biology and geology had the opportunity to study in Costa Rica.

“Students get the rare opportunity to see, feel, and taste the incredible biodiversity of the tropics, all the while learning about the biological and geologic processes that created it,” Catherine Stephens, associate professor of biology, said. “They leave the course much more appreciative of the natural world around them and always curious to learn even more.”

The International and Multicultural Studies Department welcomes and encourages anyone who is interested or has questions about going to Russia to come talk to them about the program.  The International and Multicultural Studies office, located in the Woodbury Business building, has more information for students on programs and how they can be funded.