Study abroad: No tango in Paris?

Ellen Hoffman, Editor-in-Chief

Study abroad programs are on the rise throughout the country, according to the Institute of International Education. But during the 2012 spring semester at Misericordia University, only three students studied for a full semester abroad.

Kings College and Wilkes University each send between 50 to 60 students abroad per semester.

Mollie Farmer, Director of Study Abroad at Kings College, noticed a small but steady increase in students from her school who choose to study abroad for a full semester, rather than a shorter trip.

Carolyn Yencharis Corcoran, Assistant Director in the Insalaco Center for Career Development, can only guess why students at Misericordia do not seem interested in studying abroad for full semesters. “Since most students don’t come back to tell me if and why they are not choosing to go abroad, I can only guess as to some of the reasons why,” she said.

Corcoran named cost as the main reasons students may shy away from abroad programs. Studying abroad is more expensive than staying on campus, according to Corcoran. Additional costs are taken into account as well, including plane tickets and travel expenses while abroad.

“The dollar is weak against many currencies, and many study abroad opportunities occur in a city environment which is way more expensive than Dallas, PA,” she said.

Another roadblock could be that institutional aid and institutional scholarships, such as the McAuley Award, do not travel abroad with students, according to Corcoran.

Corcoran said she has seen students travel abroad despite the expenses. She provides interested students with a worksheet, helping them to plan their expenses.

“If a student knows she/he wants to go abroad and she/he estimates how much money is needed and plans well in advance by working and saving money over a couple of breaks, holidays and summers, it can be done,” Corcoran said. “I guess in that case, it would just depend on the level of desire and ambition to study abroad the students possesses.”

Students’ specific majors may be another reason students shy away from studying abroad, Corcoran said. She mentioned that health science majors like nursing and medical imaging have a very tight curricular structure, which may not translate well into a semester abroad.

Thirty-nine percent of U.S. students spent an entire semester studying abroad in 2010, and 270,604 students studied abroad for credit during the academic year 2009/10.  That’s compared to 260,327 the previous year, according to the Institute for International Education. Students majoring in social sciences, business management or humanities were at the top of the charts for the number of students who studied abroad in the past few years.

Lauren Carey, a junior psychology/doctorate of physical therapy major studied abroad in Ireland during the spring semester of her sophomore year. Carey noticed that only a small number of students seem interested, and she encourages more students to research abroad programs, regardless of major.

“I was prepared, but I was surprised,” Carey said of her expenses abroad. Overall she ended up spending more than she expected. What surprised her the most was the cost to wash clothes in her village. The house she stayed in for five months did not have a laundry room. There was a laundromat nearby, but washing clothes came at a high price.

Carey said she expanded her cultural knowledge and “grew so much as an individual” after spending five months traveling through Ireland and its surrounding countries.

“Studying abroad is important because it really helps you find yourself and become very independent. It’s important to experience as many new and uncomfortable situations as you can so that you don’t graduate and wonder what else is out there.”

Institute for International Education noted that large institutions sent the highest number of students abroad throughout the U.S, but many smaller collegiate schools send a higher amount of their students abroad. Those smaller schools reported in 2011 they sent more than 70 percent of their students abroad at some point during their undergraduate careers. Arcadia University is one of the smaller schools mentioned by the Institute. Misericordia works with Arcadia to give students more traveling options.

Arcadia and Webster University, both nationally recognized study abroad programs, have a cooperative relationship that helps to provide MU students with more study abroad options.

Corcoran works with students to find the right abroad trip for each individual.  “I tend to get a lot of students in my office inquiring about studying abroad and I try to connect them with students that have studied abroad in the past,” she said. “If students are looking for a specific language or area we would work with them to make sure it happens.”

Although numbers are low, more students seem interested in service or summer trips abroad. Campus Ministry offers a number of popular service trips abroad throughout the academic year and English professor Dr. Blanchard teaches a course that allows students to spend four weeks in Italy during the summer.

Blanchard’s course, Italy in Literature in Film, allows students to have a shorter experience, and students do not miss any of their spring or fall semester classes. Corcoran said this is the first program like this at MU, and she thinks it is a great way for students interested in traveling abroad to get a taste of that experience, and at a lower cost than that of a full semester.

“Dr. Blanchard’s program as well as those run through campus ministry are less expensive because Dr. Blanchard and our campus ministry department work very hard to try and keep the costs as low as possible for our students. They know that students are not rich,” Corcoran said.

No matter which abroad experience students choose, Corcoran said study abroad programs change students and build character.

“When you’re abroad, you’re constantly analyzing things and you’re constantly comparing and contrasting things and expanding your mind and your way of thinking,” Corcoran said. “We live in a global society and students should have some exposure to that.”

Corcoran said  students need to feel comfortable with themselves before they find themselves in a completely different environment, sometimes where no one speaks the same language. She gave the example of needing to grocery shop alone, in foreign territory.

“Students gain skills in leadership, self assertiveness, when you’re in a foreign country you have to do things like find out where the supermarket is, and it could be your first solo trip and so you learn how to be a little more assertive.”

Corcoran believes  studying abroad is something students would never forget, and she feels it can work for any student, of any background, in any major.

“I always say you would never regret going abroad but you might regret not going abroad because it is truly a life changing experience and I think a lot of times for students it ends up being a line of demarcation, who I was before going abroad and who I am after.”

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