Senate bill calls for 2006 to be Year of Study Abroad

by Elizabeth Giorgi

The new year brings increased commitment to studying abroad.

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., co-sponsored a bill designating 2006 as the Year of Study Abroad.

In November the U.S. Senate unanimously approved the bill to encourage Americans, their schools and businesses to increase the amount of study abroad opportunities available. The bill was passed in the House.

Learning Abroad Center staff members said they hope the bill will increase awareness of the need for scholarship funding for students wanting to study abroad.

Political science professor Jason Roberts said a bill such as the Year of Study Abroad bill is a “classic position-taking bill” that is simply a public relations move for the co-sponsors.

He said the bill does nothing for the University or its students because it isn’t providing money or putting any programs into place.

Roberts said bills such as the Year of Study Abroad bill are typically successful in terms of making the co-sponsors appear as if they are concerned with an issue, however, it usually won’t cause any changes to be made.

“We can pass bills encouraging people to eat their vegetables, but it really doesn’t affect their diet,” Roberts said.

However, Learning Abroad Center Director Al Balkcum said the bill serves a purpose other than positive public media attention for the sponsors.

“(The Learning Abroad Center) is going to use the Year of Study Abroad as much as we can to emphasize not just what we have accomplished in the past, but as well to make some headway to get more students to study abroad,” he said.

The bill is an opportunity to increase awareness among students, parents, alumni and the University community about the importance of having a study-abroad experience as part of the education process, he said.

Learning Abroad Center staff members hope to integrate the Year of Study Abroad theme with programs and events on campus.

The Year of Study Abroad also was meant to be a reinforcement of the Abraham Lincoln Commission, which helps to fund scholarships for students to study abroad, Balkcum said.

The most common barrier for students is the increased cost of studying abroad as compared with attending classes on campus, he said.

Computer science senior Stephen Fluin said the expense of studying in France required him to work three jobs.

“One of the major factors in doing study abroad in virtually any country is the cost… it took sacrifices to do that,” he said.

Fluin said that despite the expense of the experience, he was glad he had the opportunity.

Luke Friedrich, Minnesota press secretary for Coleman, said encouraging students to study abroad and helping to support the Lincoln Commission are some of the important advancements the bill can make.

“Sen. Coleman also anticipates pushing ideas this year to encourage American students to learn foreign languages in order to help our country be more competitive in the global marketplace,” Friedrich said.?”One of the best ways to do that is by studying overseas.”