It’s no longer foreign to study abroad

by Kamariea Forcier

If University students don’t like the idea of four more months of winter in Minnesota, one office on campus is encouraging them to leave. But only temporarily — to study abroad.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, this is a national trend. A recently released survey conducted by the Institute of International Education in New York found that the number of American students studying abroad rose 10.6 percent in 1994-95. This rise reflects a 10-year upward trend.
“I think you’re not only going to learn about another country and its culture, but about yourself and your own culture (by studying abroad),” said Al Balkcum, director of the Global Campus office. This week, the office is conducting a series of informational meetings for students interested in studying abroad.
The national increase in students going to other countries is credited both to the increasing importance of a second language and to the changing global economic climate that encourage business students to study these changes, according to the New York Times survey.
For example, the fast-growing economic market in China was cited as the reason for a 30 percent increase in American students studying in that country.
Campuses across the nation are encouraging students to study abroad and take advantage of the opportunities that a foreign stay can provide.
Balkcum, who for 15 years has advised students on studying abroad, said he recommends the experience to students because of the lifelong effects it has.
“In 15 years of doing this, I have seen so many students — both before they leave for a study abroad experience and after they return — and the changes are dramatic,” he said. “There’s so much growth going on, maybe even that the student is not aware of, but it’s happening.”
Balkcum’s office boasts the largest collection of study abroad material at the University. He said his office sends about 700 students abroad annually. And the number is going up.
The Global Campus office in Nicholson Hall provides students with walk-in advisers and information sessions. The office can help students sift through more than 160 programs coordinated through the University for academic credit, he said.
One student at Tuesday’s information session plans on studying in Spain before she graduates.
“I’ve been tossing the idea around for a year,” said Elizabeth Owens, a College of Liberal Arts senior.
“I wish I had done it my junior year, without the time crunch of senior year and graduation,” Owens said. “But I’m ready to leave and see what the world is like.”
Owens has considered the advantages of studying abroad for years, but never acted on them before now.
“I thought about study-abroad when I was in high school, but I wasn’t ready,” she said. “In college I had my eyes opened to many personalities and experiences, and I think a study abroad is the next step,” she added.
An experienced international traveller, Owens took many trips with her family as an adolescent and remembers the cultural awareness that her travels brought her.
“There was this really humbling moment, where I realized how insensitive American tourists can be,” she said of a trip to Latin America with her family when she was 13.
“We were on a ship, anchored off this island, and the indigenous children were swimming out to the boat and calling out ‘money, money,'” said Owens. “The people on the ship started throwing quarters into the ocean, and the kids were diving for them. And the tourists were laughing and saying how cute the kids were.
“They thought they were helping, but it’s a sick way to help,” she said.
Owens said she hopes a study-abroad program will give her a deeper perspective on herself and her culture.
“I’m a psych major, and I’m interested in learning about people … how people view the U.S. in other parts of the world,” she said. “I think it’s going to have a tremendous impact on myself and how I fit into the world as a person.”
Family and friends encouraged Owens to go to the Global Campus office to find out more about studying elsewhere.
“Having friends and family come back from their experiences and speak so highly of it, the excitement of finding your way around a foreign country … seeing things you only read about and knowing you did it on your own — it’s very energizing,” she said.
And her brother keeps reminding her of the advantages of international study.
“He keeps calling me and saying, ‘Elizabeth, have you got your study abroad kit yet? It’s the most important experience of your life,'” she said. “‘Job recruiters are going to ask about it.'”
As for cost, the program that interests Owens the most is one of the more costly, at about $10,000 for a summer.
Owens said now is a good time for her to go because she doesn’t have permanent attachments. She also said it’s cheaper to travel as a student than as a tourist.
“For what I get out of it, it’s definitely worth the cost. I’m willing to take out a loan for that kind of experience,” she said.
But Balkcum said many of the programs offered through the University are not as expensive as Owens’ chosen program.
For example, a University student that lives on campus and takes a full-load of classes could spend less during a quarter of study abroad in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
No matter where students go, Balkcum recommends that students interested in a program plan early.
“The earlier, the better,” he said. “Obviously, some students are coming in now that want to go in the spring, and it’s possible. But in terms of planning, earliest is best.”