If your answer is “d,” you win—or, to be more accurate, your student wins, because you’ve already demonstrated an understanding that The University of Iowa can help students take their college experiences far beyond the boundaries of the traditional campus by taking advantage of a broad range of study abroad experiences.
The scope of study abroad opportunities has expanded since parents of today’s students were in college, thanks to better connections between U.S. and foreign institutions and an ever-increasing understanding of how global cultures and economies are interconnected. Study abroad programs today can allow students to meet a wide variety of personal and academic goals, everywhere from Mexico to Sweden, Beijing to Nairobi.
“Students who study abroad consider their experience to be the
single most valuable thing they did as an undergraduate,” says Janis Perkins, director of the UI Office for Study Abroad. “There is no doubt students become more self-confident, savvy decision makers who are more tolerant and understanding of ambiguity. It’s a maturing experience that results in real personal growth.”
Perkins and her colleagues hope that parents and students who are curious about international experiences understand a few key points:
A major can be minor
Though spending a semester or more studying in another part of the world is an obvious choice for students in some majors—such as languages or international studies—it’s no less valuable for students in nursing, engineering, or education.
“There are academic benefits to students in any field,” Perkins says. “For example, you can see how culture dramatically affects how business is done or how health care is delivered. For engineering students, developing an understanding of how technology and government interact is critical to the development of the field.”
Study abroad experiences come in a vast array of models, and study abroad advisers work with students from all UI colleges to find ways to make an international experience fit in with their degree programs. An increasing number of programs don’t require students to speak a language other than English.
“What we do is talk with students and help them decide what type of program they’re ready for,” Perkins says. “We will identify programs that are geared to the level of preparation and independence.”
Study abroad programs are operated by U.S. and foreign universities as well as other educational organizations. Students could find themselves taking university classes taught in English, doing internships or job shadowing within their field, or living with a family while participating in academic programs. Study abroad advisers can help give students the world—and then help them find the best place for them in it.
“We want students to define their objectives,” Perkins explains. “We try to steer them away from ‘where do you want to go’ to ‘what do you want to get out of the experience.’ The array of programs available allows us to put the student in the best program for that student.”
Plan early and plan often
As students learn when they enroll at Iowa, good planning can ensure a successful and rewarding college experience. Preparing to add a study abroad experience to the schedule is just another factor to plan for.
“If we talk to students early we can lay the world out before them,” Perkins says. “There are opportunities to go abroad as early as the summer after the first year. We encourage students to start exploring study abroad as early as their first year, because earlier in their college career, they have more choices and greater flexibility. When students go abroad while they’re still open majors, they often come back knowing definitely what they want to do.”
While studying abroad is a possibility for students in all majors, it’s imperative for students to understand their degree requirements and how those requirements fit in with their study abroad objectives. Though it’s a more challenging process than just going online to register for next semester’s courses, academic advisers say it’s a process that builds confidence.
“Students come back as good planners,” says Jennifer Joslin, an assistant director of the Academic Advising Center. “Their understanding of their major grows and develops. The more exposed they are to the world, the more options they see.”
Working with study abroad advisers and their academic and departmental advisers, students can develop plans that enable them to study abroad while making desired progress on their degrees.
“The better they are at planning and being honest about what they are hoping for, the more satisfied the student will be,” Joslin says. For example, it can be hard to find study abroad programs that provide academic credit in advanced sciences, so students who need those classes should build that fixed variable into their planning. By working with their major departments and other campus advisers, students can develop realistic expectations for what they can accomplish while studying abroad.
A euro for your thoughts
While the world may be a student’s oyster, you still have to pay for that oyster. The good news is that study abroad can be done affordably. There are scholarships and grants from the University and other organizations, and the range of programs available makes it possible for students to meet their intellectual and financial needs.
“We keep costs as low as we can without compromising quality,” Perkins says. “No student should assume they can’t study abroad because of cost. Study abroad often costs less than UI tuition for students who pay nonresident tuition at Iowa.”
Next stop, the world
Studying abroad can be a turning point in a student’s academic career, changing their understanding of the world around them. It can also change the way the world—particularly future employers—perceives them.
“It definitely enhances career prospects and that’s being recognized by recruiters,” Perkins says. “They see study abroad experience on a résumé and they know that students come with a unique set of qualities.”
by Anne Remington