Study abroad still attracts high participation
Ten percent of student body studied abroad last year; new programs created
“You can become very good at speaking in the classroom, but you will never become fluent,” said Elizabeth Ballou, a second-year College student who studied abroad through the Hispanic Studies’ Valencia program.
As the world becomes increasingly connected and globalized, more and more students are studying abroad each year. A report released by the Institute of International Education puts the number of U.S. students who studied abroad in the last academic year at about 283,000 — a 62 percent increase in the last 10 years.
In line with the national trend, students at the University are also flocking to study abroad programs. Almost 1,500 undergraduate students — just less than 10 percent of the entire student body — spent part of the last year abroad with University-affiliated programs. The bulk of those students participated in summer programs and not in full-year or semester-long programs.
Of students who study abroad, more than half go to a European country — a percentage that has remained relatively steady throughout the last several years.
There has been increasing participation, however, in study abroad programs in Asia, with the number of students increasing 45 percent in the last five years.
Stacey Hansen, operations coordinator and senior education abroad advisor at the International Studies Office, said there are numerous reasons students choose a particular country to study in.
“There are a wide variety of factors that could influence a student’s choice of destination such as current affairs (economic, political, etc.), events (Olympics, World Cup, etc.), previous exposure (personal experience, friends and family, television shows, etc.), faculty, major, etc.,” Hansen said in an email.
Current popular destinations include Spain, which receives 16 percent of University students studying abroad, the United Kingdom at 11.5 percent, France at 8.9 percent, and China and Hong Kong at 7.6 percent. These countries have a wide variety of offerings — from language and architecture to politics or engineering — whereas many other countries have fewer, more focused programs.
The International Studies Office is currently investigating factors that influence students’ decision-making in choosing international experiences using data from surveys, Hansen said.
Who goes abroad
More Architecture students per capita studied abroad last year than students in any other school. One in five Architecture students spent some time abroad in the 2012–13 academic year. On the other end of the spectrum, less than 5 percent of both Engineering and Nursing students participated in a study abroad program.
The majors that fielded the most participants were Commerce, Foreign Affairs and Spanish. The largest category, however, was undeclared College students.
Students look into study abroad programs for a variety of reasons — language experience, academics, global experiences and work experience. Some students go simply out of interest in a particular country.
“I have never been on a plane, and I think the cultural diversity you will be exposed to is very beneficial for the workplace,“ first-year College student Jonathan Jackson said of his interest in studying abroad in Europe.
Jackson says he will probably travel during the summer.
“I don’t want to risk taking a semester off, because I think the college experience at U.Va. is incredible,“ Jackson said. “I don’t want to miss anything.”
Peyton Herring, a third-year College student, said she was interested in the program in Belfast, Ireland, because it offers a student teaching experience. Herring is also studying Elementary Education in the Education school.
Gina Thompson, a second-year College student, is looking into the program in Valencia, Spain because of its language offerings.
“I am looking at the language program — the one in Spain — because it gets the language credits out of the way faster,” Thompson said.
Gaining a new perspective on a field of study is another common instigator for students who decide to study in a foreign country. This was a driving factor for second-year student College student Cong Lu, who studied comparative politics at Oxford this past summer.
“[The program offered] comparative courses between English and U.S. politics, so I [could] get a different perspective of politics than in the States,” Lu said.
Lu noted, however, that she wished she had had more time to explore the diverse regions of the country.
Not all students, however, are interested in study abroad programs.
“As an international student, I am already studying abroad in another country,” second-year College student Fanjia Kong said. “I could go to another country, but why not just stay here and know more about the U.S. first?”
And even though most students are interested in study abroad, not every student has the time to do it.
“I was interested, but it never really worked out, and I ran out of time,” fourth-year College student Gabe Planas said.
New study abroad programs are constantly being created and developed at the University.
Portuguese Prof. Eli Carter is starting a new summer program in Salvador, Brazil this year. Students will have a selection of language, culture, and business courses.
The program will start in July and coincides with the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
“Our program will start at the very end of the World Cup, which will be a unique experience,” Carter said.
Carter said he came to the University with the idea of starting a summer study abroad program in Brazil, and his program has just recently been approved.
“Right now, we are focusing on a summer program [instead of a semester or a J-term] so we [can] expose students to Brazilian culture and allow students to study Portuguese in context,” Carter said. “It’s [a] once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The program will be starting small and only take 15 students this year. Existing programs in Brazil involve semester or year-long studies.
Other new summer programs include a Sustainability in Denmark program offered through the Commerce School and Systems Practicum in Sweden. Both are one-month programs in May.
Sustainability in Denmark examines programs undertaken by local leaders to address green energy, sustainable transportation and food security in their communities.
Systems Practicum in Sweden also teams up students to work for Swedish clients on sustainability-related consulting projects, which integrates systems engineering, environmental management and business. The program is modeled after a similar program run by the University in Argentina.
Study abroad and language acquisition
Students often choose to study abroad in countries where the language they are interested in is spoken. Associate French Prof. Janet Horne said though there are a limited amount of things that can be accomplished in a few weeks in a study abroad program, making the trip is very beneficial for students’ language acquisition.
“Students are placed in a setting where they need to use language, not simply to perform in the classroom,” Horne said. “It’s a different relation to language. It’s 24/7.”
Elizabeth Ballou, a second-year College student who spent last semester in Valencia with the University-sponsored program, said her desire to become fluent in Spanish was a major reason in electing to studying abroad.
“You can become very good at speaking in the classroom, but you will never become fluent,” Ballou said.
Chinese instructor Miao-fen Tseng agreed that study abroad programs provide for a culturally and linguistically immersive setting, but emphasized the importance of choosing a well-organized program.
“Study abroad programs have different standards, expectations and academic rigor — but not all of them have high standards and expectations,” Tseng said. “Make a wise decision and go to a well-established one.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the new program in Brazil had a required set of courses.