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Studying abroad offers lifetime lessons

Monday, July 28, 2008 | 2:58 p.m. CDT; updated 3:04 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 28, 2008
Students from all over the world pass through La Penice, the main foyer of L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, in March of the 2007 Spring semester in Paris.

Imagine yourself getting off a subway in Rome. Shortly after exiting the station, you come face-to-face with the Colosseum. With only a four-lane street between you and this 1,900-year-old amphitheater, it's as if you could reach out and touch it. You stop just to take it in, and you stand there, breathless.

For MU senior Nicole Griswold, 22, an interdisciplinary studies major, who spent the spring 2008 semester in Rome, "it's hard to put into words. You will never know what it's like until you have lived abroad."

If the opportunity presents itself, every student should study abroad at least one semester before graduating from college. It should be at the top of your priority list. Not because your teachers tell you to but because you need to.

Why? Because the world continues to become more and more globalized. "The U.S. cannot conduct itself effectively in a competitive international environment when our most educated citizens lack minimal exposure to, and understanding of, the world beyond U.S. borders," said former 9/11 Commission chairs Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton in a news release found on the Association of International Educators Web site.

Also, a student who has traveled abroad is seen more favorably by an employer than one who has not.

Besides, when will you ever get another chance to travel the world, make international friends, learn other cultures first-hand, learn a language, learn about yourself, expand your world-view, all while enhancing the value of your degree and employment opportunities? And, do it so inexpensively?

Barbara Lindeman, director of Study Abroad at MU, said about 1,100 students studied abroad in 2007. That is a 14 percent increase in participation in the past year, and is higher than the national average of 9 percent. The short-term programs abroad, such as the new faculty lead programs to China and Rwanda, are contributing to this increase. These programs often appeal to MU students because they are taught by an MU faculty member and a host faculty member, and also they allow students to complete course work in their major.

It is easier than ever to study abroad because of the many resources that are available to students. Although getting started might seem frightening, MU's International Center makes it easy. The Resource Room, the staff, and the Web site are valuable resources that will provide all the answers to your studying abroad questions.

Planning early is key

Advisers say to take at least a semester of planning before you go. Make sure you plan accordingly, as there are application deadlines: Oct. 6 for Spring 2009 programs and Feb. 23, for summer 2009, fall 2009 and full-year 2009-2010 programs.

Lindeman said it's ideal to start thinking about studying abroad as a freshman. "Although freshman are trying to focus on making the transition to MU, it's important to think ahead about studying abroad, so you can plan well." She advises students to tell their academic advisors at Summer Welcome if they want to study abroad. This way study abroad can be worked into a degree plan.

Depending on the program's eligibility requirements, students can study abroad as early as the second semester of their freshman year. If you plan it right, you can take your general education courses abroad and be back in time for those necessary core classes within your major. Or find a program that meets those eligibility requirements for your major, if you plan on studying abroad in your junior and senior years. If you plan well, study abroad won't delay your graduation, says Lindeman. "I do believe that with proper planning, any MU student within any major can study abroad, and it will not hinder their date of graduation," she said.

Programs

MU offers three types of programs - MU Programs, MU Partner Programs and the non-MU Programs. Nearly 400 MU and MU Partner Programs are available in more than 50 countries for a semester or academic year, with summer programs available as well. If you can't find a program in a particular country in which you want to study, there are other programs offered by universities or organizations not affiliated with MU. Overall, there are more than 2,000 programs worldwide.

Affordability

To make it as affordable as possible, studying abroad on an MU program may be your best choice, as it is the equivalent to studying here at Mizzou. Because MU programs are based on "exchange agreements with universities abroad," according to the International Center's Web site, you can study at the international university essentially for the same cost as studying at MU. Extra expenses are your flight, passport and visa, a studying abroad fee and miscellaneous expenses such as extra travel within and out of your host country. But tuition and educational fees are usually the same as those paid at MU, and housing costs are paid to your host country's institution.

Although MU Partner Programs cost more, don't let that stop you from going. The benefit is that there are programs within countries or other areas within a country that MU Programs can't offer. Many of them also offer substantial scholarships to MU students that can equal the cost of an MU Program or even lower the cost altogether.

Set your mind at ease since most federal, state and campus-based financial aid is applied to an MU or MU Partner Program. Plus, don't forget scholarships. The International Center offers $500 to $1,000 to study abroad. There are third-party scholarships available either with the MU Partner Programs or through other sources. The International Center can help direct you to them.

OK, you're possibly thinking about studying abroad:

  • Begin doing some research by taking a look at the International Center's Web site. The site has studying abroad how-tos, in-depth information on programs, financing options and necessary forms.
  • Take a spin through the center's Resource Room. It has leaflets and booklets of information on every program, country, scholarship and financial option. Peer advisers, who have previously traveled abroad, are there to help and answer questions.
  • Attend a Study Abroad 101 session, where you'll learn the basics of study abroad and have your questions answered. A general overview of programs, the application process, financial aid and billing are discussed. This is recommended, advisers say. Sessions are on 4 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays at 4 p.m. at the center.
  •  Attend a Study Abroad Fair during the first few weeks of the fall or spring semesters. See where you can go in the world and meet with program advisers from MU and MU Partner Programs.
  • Dates: The largest fair of the year is in the fall semester, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 9 in Stotler Lounge in Memorial Union. A mini-fair is held in the spring semester. It is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Feb. 3, in Stotler Lounge in Memorial Union.
  • Meet with a study abroad adviser.
  • Once you've decided to study abroad, then the paperwork process begins.
  • Application forms will need to be filled out by the deadline. You'll be assigned to an adviser, who will give you the specifics for each program and country requirements.
  • Only 10 percent of U.S. undergraduates ever study abroad, according to the International Educators Web site. And this is unfortunate, because polls have shown that most students want to study abroad and expect to before graduating from college. You might have a reason for not going, but don't let it stop you. Think beyond the fear of the unknown, lacking language skills or the financial aspects of it - these are miniscule compared to what you will gain from your experience.
  •  "I know that when I look back at life years from now, when I am old, talking to my grandkids, the first thing that I will tell them is how I lived in Italy in my 20s and how being there was one of the greatest times in my life," says Griswold.

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