Studying abroad can be difficult for CSE students

Students say high costs and tight course schedules are discouraging.

Katelyn Faulks

For Ahmed Zaher, studying abroad would delay his graduation a full year. The mechanical engineering junior said he needs to stay on track.

“For my schedule, it’s difficult, because I have to graduate in four years,” he said. “If I take less than 12 credits, I can’t finish.”

For University of Minnesota students in the sciences, studying abroad can be an extra challenge to fit in with their coursework. In 2011-12, only 3.4 percent of College of Science and Engineering students studied abroad, according to the Learning Abroad Center — the lowest of any undergraduate college.

CSE international programs coordinator Adam Pagel said he’s concerned students don’t know what their options are or think they can’t afford to study abroad.

“They hear it’s hard to go, and they don’t look into it,” he said.

More than a decade ago, CSE didn’t have its own international programs office, Pagel said, but a grant from the Bush Foundation allowed it to create the office in 2001. The number of CSE students studying abroad has increased slightly since, though it remains low.

Zaher said he’s also concerned that if he did study abroad, the credits might not transfer to his transcript.

Pagel said the University has conversion polices in place that can transfer credits from schools overseas, but the student has to provide syllabi or other course information for approval by a University professor in the discipline. Students can check if a class will transfer before or after they go, he said.

“We are getting more proactive about helping students,” he said. “If you just put it all on the student, it’s intimidating.”

Mechanical engineering junior Oluwadamini Ajayi said he chose not to study abroad because he couldn’t afford it and didn’t want to apply for a visa.

“I am aware of the scholarships,” he said, “but they’re not guaranteed, and I’d want a 70 percent chance of getting one.”

Last year, nearly 31 percent of applicants received financial aid from the Learning Abroad Center.

Ajayi said he was also worried classes abroad wouldn’t match the “technical rigor” of his classes at the University.

Students aren’t necessarily limited by the quality of classes other universities offer, Pagel said, but the office is generally working on improving program offerings.

“It’s something we’re working on,” he said, “but the truth is, we can’t have it all over the world.”

There is some flexibility for students who want to go abroad during winter or summer break, but he said students could have limited options if they don’t know a second language.

Not all CSE students have given up on fitting a trip into their undergraduate careers.

Mechanical engineering sophomore Aaron Grant said he plans to study abroad in Florence, Italy, next summer.

Grant said he chose the summer program because it was easier on his schedule and he didn’t want to leave his family for more than a month.

“The cost is a major aspect,” he said. “But at the same time, based on the amount of stuff I can do with scholarships and stuff, I’m not that worried. I hope to get an internship this summer to pay my way.”

Grant said he decided against taking science classes while abroad and plans to fulfill liberal education requirements instead. Being a CSE student is difficult, Grant said, but studying abroad is still possible with enough planning.

“If you actually have a plan in place, you start to get really passionate about going abroad,” he said. “There’s nothing that can stop you from doing what you want to do.”