Traversing the Options of Studying Abroad
I had the most fortunate experience of traveling abroad to Edinburgh, Scotland while I attended Gordon College. This time of my life not only exposed me to different cultures and travels around Europe (opportunities to learn more about the world that I could never replace!), but it challenged me to consider the bigger picture. What do I want to do with my life, with my career? How can I live with purpose and serve others in need?
These themes have translated into every position I have held since graduation, and I now work for MEFA, a non-profit committed to helping families plan, save, and pay for college. Thinking back to what has brought me to my position at this organization, I realized that the complicated process of planning for a study abroad experience should be spotlighted.
Ruth Clarkin, Assistant International Student Advisor in the Global Education Office at Gordon College, offered her global education expertise to address the process and help families navigate frequently asked questions about studying abroad.
What are the benefits of a global education experience?
I find that many students come back from their time abroad with greater maturity and a deeper understanding of the world. Often times their experience translates to better relationships - with people of different cultures and a greater capability of understanding friends and family members, and a greater marketability career-wise. Students - having been taken out of their context - will often develop from young people into responsible adults. From my own study abroad semester in college, I experienced a growth of intercultural awareness and independence.
While abroad, you have to navigate in places unlike any areas you’ve been, often in another language. This is a challenge in itself, simply navigating transportation and other logistics in a foreign country. These experiences encourage problem solving, critical thinking, and independence in a way that is difficult to replicate in the United States as U.S. Citizens. The world is becoming so international that all adults can benefit from international experiences.
How can families afford to pay for the experience?
One thing I would suggest is to first look at the policies for studying abroad at your school or the schools you’re interested in. Many schools tack on fees or take away scholarships for semester-long or year-long programs. Ask what the study abroad policy is at your school or schools of choice. For instance, Gordon College encourages students to learn about different countries and cultures, so the college works to financially provide fair access to a wide range of abroad programs.
Ask your school’s financial aid office how a semester of study abroad affects tuition. Students and parents should decide if the study abroad experience is a priority, and choose a school that supports this goal financially.
If the student is already in college, there are some independent financial resources available. Also, the U.S. government and some foreign governments offer grants for study abroad, but the individual college or university must approve and accept the funds. For instance, students that are studying specific, rare languages may have opportunities for scholarship funds from the U.S. government; and currently, France is offering more scholarships because the government wants to attract talented individuals to live in the country.
How do costs work in relation to home institution costs?
This varies greatly by school; I would encourage students to meet with financial aid officers and the global education department early on in their college career. It is important to talk to both offices; one office may know about financial funding opportunities that the other office may not know about, and vice versa.
Can you share any personal stories or accounts of study abroad experiences that shaped careers for individuals?
From working in the Global Education Office at Gordon College, I have heard many stories! It is hard to pinpoint one.
That being said, I know of one student who studied abroad in France during his time at Gordon. He and his wife now work at a hospital in Africa because of his intercultural experience and his proficiency in the French language. Another graduate is pursing a career in business outside of D.C., inspired by his experience in international business while studying in the UK. Several of our students have moved back to their countries of study to further engage with their host cultures. Some of our students have changed majors or career paths and gone into government positions, non-profit work, and international relations based on their abroad experiences. Many students return from their experiences deeply impacted – their time abroad has forever changed the way they look at the world.
Ruth Clarkin graduated from Gordon College with a BA in Communication Arts and a Minor in French, gained through an immersion semester in Aix-en-Provence, France. Professionally she has maintained a global focus, and outside of work Ruth enjoys running, swimming, ultimate Frisbee, and experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen.
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