Moving to MU’s campus can be a nerve-racking experience for incoming freshmen. But for some, Columbia is just the first stop: one in five MU students will study abroad at least once before graduating from college.
MU offers a variety of study abroad options, allowing participants to immerse themselves in a completely different culture and earn college credit or gain work experience.
Even though traveling takes careful planning and can add to the cost of college, MU graduate student Sarah Sabatke said, “It makes you a lot more independent, so I think it (is) worth it.”
Marie McMullen, an MU senior, said studying in Greece showed her “the world is a really big place, but you have a very important spot in it.”
Not just tourists
There are a variety of different ways to study abroad at MU. According to MU’s International Center, students can connect with programs through MU directly or through partner organizations. Although both allow great traveling options, the university’s website states MU-directed programs generally provide more financial stability and opportunities to earn educational credits.
Internships, faculty-led trips, exchange programs and direct enrollment options are all available through the MU-led study abroad. Travel is available at all times of the year, with trips lasting anywhere from a few weeks to a full academic year.
Sabatke traveled to London during the summer of 2017 for courses and an internship. There, she was able to work for Alliance Magazine and practice a variety of different skills related to her convergence journalism major.
Drew Dumas, a study abroad advisor for journalism majors, said the trips are not all about working and studying.
“We would hope you go explore and experience because that’s a huge part of studying abroad,” he said.
Sabatke said though her internship in London was competitive and required hard work, she loved the experience.
“We weren’t tourists, we were people that lived in London.”
Finding the funds
Money is often one of the most common hurdles for a student who wants to study abroad. Fortunately, help is available.
Dumas said the Journalism School offers $35,000 to $40,000 a year in financial aid. The International Center contributes as much as $500,000.
Scholarship money can sometimes be used for travel as well, but Dumas said students should be wary: Some scholarships for the regular school year do not transfer when studying abroad.
“How much you pursue funds is how much you will get for funds,” he said, sharing the story of a student who made money by holding the flag of a Columbia institution on the Great Wall of China.
Elizabeth Hurst, an MU senior who spent a full academic year in Germany, helped fund the trip, in part, with donations from her church and family.
Loans are another option for students willing to take on additional debt.
“I will be paying student loans until the day I die,” said Sabatke, who financed her London trip with borrowed money.
Despite that, she can’t picture her career without the experience.
“I wouldn’t have had any of the jobs” acquired after the trip without her visit to London, she said.
Making sure students are kept out of harm’s way while studying abroad is one of MU’s top priorities. Students are required to attend orientation before departure that teaches them safe habits, how to avoid theft and how to deal with their newfound independence.
“We make sure we can get them out of a place if (needed), and get care,” Dumas said. Traveling students are required to obtain multiple types of insurance through MU.
Students must carry smartphones and download a safety app that alerts them of any possible dangers. These tools came in handy for Sabatke when two separate terror attacks occurred in London during her stay.
Nonetheless, she said that she “felt safer in London” than in Columbia, and explained that while she refuses to walk alone at night locally, she did so regularly in London.
Hurst said she had a similar experience in Germany.
“I felt so safe over there, it was kind of ridiculous,” she said.
All of the programs MU offers provide a different learning experience, with different focuses that allow students to pick a program tailored to their interests.
McMullen went to Greece to present research with students from the University of Athens and saw a small part of the EU election process. She said she was able to learn “how covering politics is different in America versus Europe when it comes to media.”
The trip “was a very insightful experience,” she said.
Hurst, meanwhile, went to Germany after “falling in love” with the language and wanting to immerse herself in it.
The academic benefits often continue after students return home. According to a study conducted by the University of California-Merced, students who studied abroad saw increased improvement in their GPAs after the experience and were 16% more likely to graduate.
With the avalanche of new experiences facing college students, the thought of traveling to a foreign country may be daunting. But planning ahead is essential, MU sources said.
Sabatke said she started planning her freshman year, making sure she could work a trip abroad into her course load without missing any credits.
Sabatke’s advice to incoming students who wish to study abroad is to get involved early: Go to the study abroad fair, join clubs and talk to former travelers.
Dumas encouraged new students to contact him as well.
“I would always prefer a student come in their freshman year and talk to me,” even if they’re not wanting to study abroad until senior year.