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How To Tell If Your University Is 'Study Abroad Friendly'

Jul 11, 2011

According to recent reports, student interest in college study abroad programs is higher than ever. But when it comes to offering international options, every school's different. What sets certain study abroad programs apart and what can you do if your school doesn't offer the option you want?

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By Eric Garneau

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A Welcoming Environment

According to Wendy Williamson, study abroad director at Eastern Illinois University and contributor to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the key question when it comes to choosing a school that's study abroad friendly is this: how much support are you, the student, going to get? You should expect to be backed up by your school's faculty (both administrators and teachers) emotionally, monetarily, logistically and credentially. Boy, that's a lot of support.

Williamson essentially argues that if universities don't make study abroad programs appealing, students won't go. Statistics seem to uphold that conclusion; The Chronicle reports that around only 1.5% of college students engage in such programs every year, despite significant interest. So what can schools do to turn that interest into participation?

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A Friendly Way to Get Students Out

First, faculty need to actively encourage students to involve themselves in study abroad programs. According to Williamson, professors can use their influence in the classroom to promote such programs as attractive means of learning, while school administrators can work behind the scenes to make the logistic and financial connections needed to really foster a study abroad network. They can also ensure that study abroad programs offer a variety of attractive options, so students who want to go overseas feel they have the same kind of educational freedom and choices they do at home.

Administrators can also make sure that students are cared for as they venture overseas, many for the first time. That can be a scary experience, and students' home institutions can do a lot to help out wary travelers, offering support networks with contingency plans in case of health, security or travel emergencies. Some study abroad friendly institutions even keep an administrator on staff to oversee this very thing.

As far as pricing, administrators can help ensure that study abroad programs are reasonably affordable. Often cost is the primary reason students feel locked out of an overseas experience, and administrators should work diligently to ensure their schools support programs at the lowest feasible cost. Some institutions even offer specific financial aid packages for students looking to study abroad.

And finally, of course, there's the issue of credentialing. Often students won't find a 1:1 correspondence between classes they take in a foreign land and classes they could take at their base institution. It's up to their school to figure out how students' experience abroad will translate to their transcripts; no one wants to feel like they're wasting their time overseas academically, regardless of the amazing experience studying abroad affords.

Take a Trip

Williamson also identifies several other ways that schools can make their study abroad programs more attractive, but it all boils down to how much commitment the university in question has to seeing such a program through. When schools support these opportunities, the logic holds, students will feel more compelled to take advantage of them, and that's a move that can literally open up a whole world of possibilities.

If it turns out that your campus isn't particularly study abroad friendly, don't fret! You can still get a great international experience in college. Many universities allow students from other campuses to participate in their study abroad programs, and there are also a number of private programs open to all students.

What did study abroad students in Egypt do during this year's political unrest?

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