May 2009 graduate Dijana Kadic photographed this scene in Brussels, Belgium, during her study abroad experience. Nearly 1,300 University of Iowa students took advantage of such opportunities during the 2008–09 school year; staff in the UI Office for Study Abroad help match students with the right program. Not only do participants boost their career prospects by living and working with people of different cultures, they also report learning something about themselves.
“I wanted to live abroad for a full year,” she says. “Just to see what day-to-day life is like, and to improve my language skills and test myself to see if I’d want to pursue working abroad someday.”
Senior Anne Talbot stands before a shrine during her study abroad experience in Japan.
Talbot, now a senior in the Henry B. Tippie College of Business, started planning for her study abroad experience immediately. She looked into the more than 150 programs offered by the UI Office for Study Abroad and found a yearlong reciprocal exchange program that allowed her to study and live with a host family in Japan while paying UI tuition and fees. She then planned out her course schedule so that she could spend her junior year abroad, but still graduate in four years with a major in management information systems, a minor in Japanese, and an International Business Certificate.
The Office for Study Abroad encourages all interested students to follow Talbot’s lead and start planning as early as possible.
“We like to talk with them in the fall of their first year so they can plan their course of study,” says Janis Perkins, director of the Office for Study Abroad.
Participation in study abroad programs has increased dramatically during Perkins’ 25 years working in the field, and there are also more diverse options available.
“Study abroad used to be a semester or an academic year, and it was almost entirely language majors going to France, Germany, or Spain,” Perkins says. “Now we recognize that there’s no discipline that can’t benefit from a study abroad experience. In almost every situation, students come back more self-confident, more independent, more self-reliant.”
Will Boyd, a senior from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, majoring in international studies and Spanish, can attest to that.
“I just learned to do so many things for myself,” says Boyd, who spent a year studying in Chile. “You do some of these things in college, too, but there’s more of a safety net. I discovered that I was just really challenging myself in ways I’d never dreamed.”
Boyd says he also gained a greater appreciation for his family and life in the United States.
“Being so far away and seeing how important family is in Chilean culture made me realize how important my mom and dad are to me,” he says. “I call and e-mail them a lot more now. I have better talks with them.”
Senior Kelsey Beltramea and junior Nicole Karlis ride a camel during a weekend excursion to Morocco while they study abroad in Spain.
Over the last decade, Iowa’s study abroad office has worked to broaden the scope of its programs and offer opportunities for students who haven’t typically participated in study abroad. For example, nursing students may be interested in a community-based health care program in St. Lucia offered over winter break, while a summer-long water resources management program in Egypt or Argentina targets engineering students.
The Office for Study Abroad is careful to assess all health and safety risks of potential study abroad locations, and offers programs only where risks are deemed reasonable. Staff members provide students and parents with information about health and health insurance, as well as guidelines for personal safety and security.
Because there are so many options for study abroad, it’s difficult to calculate the average cost, but, typically, a student paying nonresident tuition can find a one-semester program that does not cost much more than a semester at Iowa, Perkins says. Students paying in-state tuition might pay $3,000 to $8,000 more than if they were spending a semester in Iowa City.
“We work very hard to keep programs affordable without ever sacrificing the integrity of the program,” Perkins says. “We have about $750,000 in financial aid to give to students just for study abroad. Affordability should never be an obstacle to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like study abroad.”
For more information on study abroad programs at Iowa, visit http://international.uiowa.edu/study-abroad.
by Anne Kapler