BERGER: Popping the bubble

University students should endeavor to study abroad if at all possible

Many students in the next few weeks are deciding whether or not to study abroad next semester and in the coming year. While a seemingly difficult decision, the choice to study abroad is one that students will not regret.

The dilemma students face comes from the bubble that the University tends to create. Students are terrified of stepping out of it — out of the comfort zone they’ve created for themselves of certain involvements, people and events. But missing a summer, or even an entire semester, is worth it for the new discoveries and cultural learning experience of living in a foreign country.

Mark Salisbury, one of the authors of the upcoming book “Renewing the Promise, Refining the Purpose: Study Abroad in a New Global Century,” spoke about the benefits of study abroad, saying, "Many times it really opens [students’] eyes to a whole other way of thinking about the world that we live in and how their actions and their interactions with people from other cultures really have an effect on the world that we live in.”

This past summer I studied abroad and not only learned a language, but learned about an entirely new culture. Salisbury is correct; meeting people from all over the world creates a wealth of cultural understanding and knowledge that our society today lacks. I met people from eleven different countries. When examined, this may not be that many, but just from those few interactions my awareness of certain cultures and regions expanded greatly.

Reflecting on his study abroad experience, third-year Matthew Schwartz said, “People always say studying abroad is an incredibly powerful experience. I didn’t realize the validity of that statement until I spent the summer in Spain with a University program. I ate new food, learned a new language and discovered new and unique traditions and values. I opened my eyes to greater cultural horizons.”

Some who want to study abroad may struggle with its cost, and therefore feel unable to participate. But many scholarship opportunities exist to support Education Abroad here at the University. The International Studies Office, specific study abroad programs, and various departments and schools in the University all offer scholarships, in addition to the national and international competitive scholarships that are offered.

Scheduling is another common problem students have when deciding whether or not to go abroad. It can be hard to complete required credits abroad, but it is doable. Faculty and advisors are willing to create academic plans so that students can dedicate a semester to study abroad; and if unsuccessful, a summer term is another option.

If financial or scheduling reasons hinder you from studying abroad in your short time as an undergraduate at the University, there are always post-graduation opportunities abroad, for master’s degrees and similar programs. Going abroad can be beneficial at any stage in life, but has the most impact while you are young and still learning in an academic environment.

For those who are able to and who have decided to study abroad, the decision is not the final step; commitment to the program is just as important. The University bubble remains while students are away, so those who do finally venture out continue to try to stay in contact, which detracts from the experience. In order to maximize the study abroad experience, students cannot remain completely plugged in to the University. Instead, students should limit their contact with those at the University, and at home in general, and try to discover the new opportunities and experiences that their respective countries can provide. It is difficult, but it is a challenge that everyone should experience at least once.

The University will always be here waiting for you, but you may never get another chance to see and study the world as an undergraduate in the prime of your life. So go through the necessary steps and try your best to get permission, and if you are able to, jump on the opportunity.

Meredith Berger is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at m.berger@cavalierdaily.com.

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