Students Head Abroad, IU Follows Suit

By Catherine Segreto, Bishop Watterson High School

Opinion Column

A city street in Aix-en-Provence, France, one of IU’s most popular sites for studying abroad.

Something about the grandeur of “studying abroad,” the idea that an individual can experience the lifestyle of a completely different culture, has resonated with each incoming college class. Whether a plucky young architecture major wants to explore the columns of Rome, or a history buff longs to taste the salty air of the Mediterranean, overseas studies have an appeal for everyone. The ability to learn in such remarkable places is an opportunity that should not be taken lightly, but rather utilized and appreciated by all.

Such is the mindset of Danielle Samek, Indiana University’s Senior Study Abroad Adviser. Samek is heavily involved in the IU Office of Overseas Study, which serves as the university’s primary office for study abroad programing. As a seasoned traveler with a full year of studying abroad beneath her belt, she feels that each and every student should seize their chance to learn and thrive in such a unique setting. “IU prioritizes international education,” Samek said on Tuesday night. “We help students achieve their dreams of studying abroad.” While this may seem like a lofty goal, Samek is actually quite successful—nearly 2,800 IU students study overseas each year, in 52 respective countries.

Though the term “studying abroad” seems to sparkle from the outside, not all that glitters is gold. Students and parents across the nation have voiced concerns in regard to overseas study, questioning whether or not programs are safe, affordable, or even worthwhile. The sheer amount of “what if this goes wrong?” scenarios are innumerable. Finding oneself in another country can be a significant culture shock to many unsuspecting students, triggering homesickness or a dilapidated state of mental health. What about terrorism? The political climate of other countries tends to fluctuate over time, making safety difficult to predict or ensure. Of course, the price point of several study programs is a deterrent for many families, as well as the reality that students may spend up to a year away from campus.

Thankfully for those with wanderlust in their veins, studying abroad happens to be a far cry from its typical misconceptions. Despite the negative impression that the concept may initially create, studying abroad is not only safe, but practical, affordable, and educational. Students’ protection and overall well-being is an obvious priority for every college. When students travel elsewhere for their studies, this priority remains intact, no matter the place “elsewhere” may be. Universities commit themselves to extensive research for their students, only selecting the safest programs in the most secure locations. Through this intensive vetting process, colleges are able to determine which countries have the most protected and predictable environments— though can say the United States is any more predictable?

Something should also be said for the financial aid and real-life applications that can be found through studying abroad. A wide variety of price points allows students to pick and choose which programs will best suit their budget, giving them the freedom of choice without emptying their wallets. Certain universities have even begun offer scholarships for their programs. As for the “real-life application” aspect of international education, studying abroad presents students with the opportunity to expand their cultural horizons while giving them a competitive edge in the workplace. Immersing oneself in a completely new environment, learning side-by-side with disparate individuals, is quite possibly the best way to grow the nature of humanity itself. Recognizing these constructive changes in character are none other than the leaders of today’s industries. About 97 percent of students who study abroad find a job within 12 months of graduation, as opposed to 49 percent of those who did not, and 25 percent of these jobs have a high starting salary.

IU’s staff members in particular have taken it upon themselves to create an international education program full of potential, where students can reap the many rewards of studying abroad. Not only does IU verify that each program is in a safe location, but ensures that students will receive the proper amount of credit hours, no matter how long their stay. Therefore, a student on a study abroad trip has the same possibility for credit hours as a student on campus. IU has also organized several informative meetings that students must attend prior to their trip. Such meetings advise students on local customs, responsible decision-making, and mental health upkeep, all of which guide students to stay safe and sound during their studies.

Whether or not an incoming college student will be attending IU, it would certainly be in their best judgment to consider studying abroad. Although potential threats can never truly be expunged, universities across the globe have done an exceptional job of minimizing the danger. The benefits of international education—job opportunities, character building, new cultural experiences, etc.— are virtually endless, and as the four-year door of college comes to a close, these benefits become exponentially more difficult to attain. As each incoming student approaches the looming expanse that is “college,” their eyes will inevitably be drawn towards the door of studying abroad. It only takes a single step forward to open that door— and begin the adventure of a lifetime.