Open yourself to new possibilities and new experiences!" That's the advice of University of Missouri-St. Louis senior Kayla Strauss, who spent seven months living in Japan and studying at Kansai University during late 2010 and early 2011.Yes, she was there when the earthquake struck on Friday, March 11, 2011.I was on the 9th floor of a department store in Tokyo when it happened,Strauss explained.In fact, it was because of the earthquake that I cut my trip short and came home.She had planned to stay in Japan for a full year, but understandably her parents were concerned.Watching the drama of the earthquake and tsunami unfold, it's hard to imagine anything more memorable, but Strauss points to dozens and dozens of smaller events that shaped her study abroad experience.There are so many memorable moments! I saw people texting while riding their bikes. I even saw one person texting while riding a bike and holding an umbrella. My roommate, Eri, was a really great person. We talked all the time — in Japanese because she didn't speak any English, Kayla said. She noted that her roommate had an interesting perception of Americans. She thought we were all very skinny. I was talking about the obesity problem in our country, and she told me she thought all Americans looked like the super models she saw on TV."
Perhaps that is one of the greatest rewards of studying abroad being able to see yourself through someone else's eyes.Having red hair and being almost six feet tall made me stick out like a sore thumb,Strauss said.Studying abroad gave me the chance to experience what it felt like to be a minority.And, she said, it expanded her world view. Although Strauss is a modern languages major, she stressed that a study abroad experience is about so much more than just language.A study abroad experience has the potential to change your life for the better. It really allowed me to appreciate my world more,Strauss said, although she was quick to point out that the study abroad experience is not a vacation.You have to attend classes and learn to take care of yourself in a strange environment. It's not time away from school.And, she pointed out, "Short term and long term experiences are totally different."
At Fontbonne University, Study Abroad director, Gail Schafers, conceded that most students interested in study abroad opportunities were choosing summer and short term travel programs that last between three and four weeks. To conduct these programs, Fontbonne partners with a consortium of other private universities.For many students, the biggest deterrent to longer experiences is the cost,Schafers said, noting that time is also a hurdle that students have to overcome. "Students who plan to study abroad for a whole semester or a whole year need to consider that option earlier rather than later and plan it into their course load and schedule.
Joel Glassman, Ph.D., director of International Studies and Programs at UMSL echoed Schafers' assessment.We have some wonderful semester and full year programs, but 75 percent of our students who participate in international studies choose short-term experiences,he said. Many students, when you ask them about studying abroad, say, 'Oh, that's probably not something I'm going to do.Dr. Glassman's goal is to change their response.Until you think of something as a real, achievable goal, you don't target it or work toward it, but studying abroad is within the reach of most students with advance planning.Dr. Glassman noted,All of UMSL's deans enthusiastically support study aboard and our faculty does a wonderful job of working with students to achieve their goals. We provide a great deal of counseling for the student and offer quite a few scholarships."
I had to apply for a lot of scholarships to be able to go to Japan,Strauss admitted, noting that her experience at Kansai University took a year of careful planning.Webster University graduate Tim Abeln offered another option. "I paid for my study abroad experience the old-fashioned way with student loans.He laughed, then added,A less expensive option is to enroll directly at a foreign university. I did that for my second trip to Guadalajara. It was a summer program, so I took just four credit hours at a total admission cost of just $350.Schafers, however, cautioned that students who work outside the American university's study abroad office can run the risk of acquiring credits that will not transfer back to the student's school of choice. "On the internet there are program finders that students can use to find study abroad programs that meet their basic requirements, but not all of them are good. One of the main things I do, in assisting students, is determining if the credits they take abroad will be acceptable to Fontbonne.When students participate in the study abroad options sponsored by their American university that concern all but disappears.
Abeln said he can see it both ways. Currently, he is a Spanish language instructor at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio, and previously he had conducted study abroad experiences for Ohio University. As both an undergraduate and graduate student, he acknowledged he was a very independent study abroad student.I really enjoyed being on my own, but not all students are like that. Some prefer the security of traveling with an instructor and students from their university," Abeln said. As an instructor, he was responsible for 10 to 15 students and taught a Study Abroad Experience class. As part of the class, his students were expected to keep a journal and participate in pre-established cultural experiences.
Traveling abroad brings quite a bit to a student's experience,Abeln said.They learn to see the world from a whole different perspective and that makes them more culturally competent and contributes to their overall growth as students and citizens of the world.I just started to see the world as it really is and it completely shocked me and changed my opinion on everything on life and my values and certainly my own sense of self.
ADVICE FOR STUDENTS WHO PLAN TO STUDY ABROAD
1. When selecting a college be sure to ask about study abroad availability. Find out if scholarships are available for this purpose. Ask whether the school conducts its own programs, is part of a consortium, or encourages independent study.
2. As a college freshmen, attend seminars and ask questions. Get to know the Study Abroad staff and stay abreast of current opportunities, changes in world travel and scholarship availability.
3. Seek advice from other students who have "been there, done that," especially if you are planning on a long-term experience. If possible talk with a variety students and try to include some who have the same temperament as you do.