Global Study: A World Of Possibilities
by James Buschman, Ph.D.
“Give us a semester and we’ll give
you the world.” This motto of Syracuse University’s Division of International
Programs Abroad is a succinct way to sum up the advantages of study abroad
for collegians. A semester (or a year, a summer, or even just a few weeks)
of study overseas can open your eyes in ways the best on-campus courses
Is study abroad for you? The answer
for an increasing number of collegians is an enthusiastic “Yes!” But what
is it? And how does it work? The following information will give you an
Study abroad means living and studying
for a period outside the United States. Many U.S. colleges and universities
now offer their students this opportunity, either through their own programs
or through affiliations with programs of other schools, like Syracuse,
that admit guest students. Students attend class and earn academic credit
that, with proper advance consultation, counts toward their own degree
requirements. Several different types of programs exist. It is important
to find the one best for you.
Overseas centers are, in effect,
small branches of a U.S. school that exist in a variety of locations. Syracuse
and many other schools have such centers. While facilities may not have
exactly the same services as the home campus, they provide students with
basic assistance in living and studying overseas. Staff members help with
orientation, housing, integration into local community activities, and
other student needs. A faculty from the home campus or hired locally teaches
classes that have been designed to provide American students with a solid
knowledge base. Students have a ‘home away from home’ where they can use
computer facilities, pick up mail, study or just relax.
Such centers exist in most parts
of the world, although the largest number of them may be found in Western
European countries, especially England, Spain, France, Germany, and Italy.
Still, non-European sites are experiencing the largest growth. In 1993-94,
nearly 1500 students went to Africa, an increase of 17.5 percent over the
previous year. Asian programs experienced nearly a 20 percent growth rate
during the same period.
University exchanges are arrangements
that permit U.S. students to enroll directly in classes at foreign universities,
usually as a part of an exchange that sends students from the foreign schools
to enroll for a similar period in the United States. Students are limited
to exchanges with English-speaking schools unless they are fluent enough
to take classes in another language alongside native speakers. Differences
in curriculum and scheduling sometimes pose other barriers difficult to
overcome, but the rewards of undertaking this challenging experience are
Increasingly popular are short-term
programs of perhaps two to six weeks. These programs are frequently led
by home-campus professors who teach one or two intensive courses during
the summer or other school break periods. They are often “traveling seminars”
taking students to a variety of locations over the length of the program.
What is the best program for you?
It depends. I advise students to choose the longest program that fits their
degree plans and their comfort level. It takes time to understand and adapt
to a new culture. If foreign language fluency is a goal, this too is best
accomplished through a prolonged overseas stay. However, the increased
cost that usually accompanies study abroad, degree requirements that make
an extended absence from campus difficult, or other personal factors sometimes
lead students to select shorter-term options.
Once they decide that they should
study abroad, most students have a good idea of where they would like to
go. Cultural heritage is often a determining factor: African-American students
frequently select sites in sub-Saharan Africa (like the Syracuse center
in Zimbabwe), while programs in Spain and Latin America enroll large numbers
of Hispanics. But just as often, students look to their future rather than
to their past, selecting programs that fit their major and their career
plans. For example, business or international relations students can gain
valuable awareness of the European Union at sites in London or Madrid,
or learn about the increasingly important Pacific Rim countries through
participation in programs in Hong Kong, Singapore, or Japan. Theater, English,
or journalism majors find London an excellent place to study. Foreign language
majors achieve true language mastery by studying where their chosen language
is spoken while living with a host family.
Most subjects can be studied overseas.
Some are difficult to find, but even science or music students can often
continue their studies at British or Australian universities. And the great
advantages of study abroad work for everyone! Students who return from
study abroad are more aware, more self-confident, and more mature than
those who do not study abroad. They stand out, as part of a select group,
from those who have chosen to remain closer to home. These differences
are noticed by employers and graduate schools, giving study abroad veterans
a distinct edge in increasingly tough competitions for jobs. Many students
add to their credentials by interning with world-class companies or international
Plan! Students who consider their
options well in advance of the time they want to study abroad will be better
able to fit the resulting credits into their degree programs and remain
on target for graduation, and they will be more likely to find the necessary
financial resources. Speak with your school’s advisor of the study abroad
program (if there is one) as well as with your own advisor. Find out what
financial aid is available. Many schools allow aid to be used for study
abroad. Don’t be deterred by high price tags attached to your favorite
programs! Many schools have extra aid available, even for guest students.
For students with Internet access, two key websites are www.studyabroad.com
(for program listings arranged by country) and www.finaid.org (for tips
on finding additional financial aid). Syracuse has its own: http://sumweb.syr.edu/dipa.
No one has a better perspective on
a program than students who have gone on it. When you’ve narrowed your
selection of possible programs, ask for former participants to talk to
you. Be wary of programs that offer you excuses instead of people to contact.
When you’ve made a decision invest in the experience! Learn as much as
you can about the country you have selected and brush up on U.S. current
events as well, because your new hosts will surely ask you about them!
Keep a journal and maximize your
contacts with the local people while overseas. When you return home, prepare
for a shock. You will have changed dramatically, and your life will never
be quite the same again. I have yet to meet a single student who regretted
study abroad once it was over. On the contrary, virtually all former participants
describe their time abroad as the single greatest event of their lives.
Don’t miss it!
James Buschman, Ph.D. of Syracuse
University spent a year in Nigeria as a collegian and later directed a
study abroad program in Brazil. He has sent about 3500 collegians abroad
in over a decade as an administrator. He welcomes your questions about
study abroad and is available at the following e-mail address: