Students 'sea'ing the benefits of studying abroad

“Study abroad if you can, you’re never going to travel this way again,” said Jaedon Wilson, a senior at Indiana University Bloomington majoring in international relations with a minor in French and business.

Danielle Samek, senior adviser at the Indiana University in Bloomington’s Office of Overseas Study took time on July 11 to talk to the group of students at the college’s High School Journalism Institute about the growing interest in study abroad programs as well as the never ending academic and personal benefits that come from participating in these programs.

While it is important to look to future growth and benefits of study abroad programs, Samek pointed out that it’s equally important to note that IU has been a leader in overseas study since the first students and faculty took a walking tour of Europe in the 1800s.

Since that initial group of students and faculty, the study abroad program at IU has grown. Samek noted that over the past 10 years at IU, the college has seen a 66 percent growth in its study abroad programs. This can be accredited to many different factors, with Samek noting families wanting their students to have the experience of studying overseas, as well as overall more awareness and acceptance of the opportunity that students have. “It doesn’t always come down to resources, it could just be awareness,” Samek said.

Specifically, at IU Bloomington, 2,800 students are involved in the foreign exchange program, with those students having the opportunity to study in 52 different countries. Moreover, students who choose to immerse themselves in a foreign language have 19 different language options to choose from. Samek made it clear that if students were not fluent or confident in a language, there are still study abroad locations where classes are taught completely in English. At IU it’s important that the staff is able to find each student the program that fits them the best and will allow their students to have the best study abroad experience possible. “We still want to have them that (study abroad) experience and if they want that, we’re going to offer it to them,” Samek said.

After taking a French-immersive semester long study abroad program, Wilson was able to share his love of study abroad when he began working in the Office of Overseas Study as a peer counselor; interested students see Wilson first when students come to this office. Wilson was able to give the students an inside perspective on the experience of being a student on a foreign exchange, as well as having to deal with situations that are new and something that the students are not necessarily familiar with. Wilson also made note that when going on a study abroad it not only gives the students a new personal perspective for themselves, but it gives them a wider worldly perspective. Wilson said that studying abroad made him realize that “the United States isn’t the only country that there is.”

A main focus of the conversation involved academics. Going on a study abroad over a time period as little as three weeks to one as large as up to one year does raise concern with students, giving that graduation is a high priority. Samek made sure to highlight the statistic that 95 percent of students who study abroad graduate on time in four years compared to the lower on time four-year graduation rate of students who chose not to study abroad.

Students even can get credit for their study abroad programs; as shown in Samek’s presentation, if the students go for one semester they will receive one semester of credits, if the students go for a shorter period of time they will still get credit just not as much, and if the students are gone for a year, they will receive a year’s worth of credits.
Students hesitant to go on a foreign exchange that doesn’t relate to their major should be aware of the fact that students who do choose to participate programs unrelated to their major may end up with a minor from the credit earned during the study abroad.
Depending on the students programs or what the students want to get out of their own experience, they’ll either be in a class with other students studying abroad or be enrolled into a university in the country that they’re staying in.

“I was the foreign kid in the class,” said Wilson when talking about the classes he was enrolled in while in France.

Samek also made sure to let students know the importance and benefits of gaining new experiences during her time studying abroad. In doing so, she touched on her own personal experience that she had when she was a student studying abroad. When speaking of this, her time in a traditional French dance group came up, “I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself in French so why can’t I make a fool of myself in dance?” Samek said.

Furthering her discussion on this, Samek said, “Had I not pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, I wouldn’t have that special memory.”