As statistics and alumni prove, studying abroad is a valuable experience for college students. With all of the personal and professional benefits, one might expect the number of students studying abroad to skyrocket. According to the Huffington Post, however, only about five percent of undergraduate students actually follow through.
Even for students very interested in pursuing the great opportunities study abroad provides, often after seeing student presentations or going to fairs and events hosted by campus global engagement, the actual process before, during and after studying abroad is daunting. Much more daunting than it should be.
Yes, choosing to study abroad is a big, expensive decision a student shouldn’t make overnight, but if studying abroad is so valuable to a student’s life and education, the process to get to that end goal needs to become simplified and transparent.
My experience is nothing out of the ordinary than others studying abroad. I scheduled multiple meetings to even choose a location and program. Those who choose a direct program, National Student Exchange or separate agency altogether all have different hoops to jump through. More meetings followed to receive all the paperwork involved, requiring me to schedule more meetings with financial aid and every department chair to finish each piece of the puzzle, which then must be communicated back to the global engagement office. At times this meant I didn’t have every little detail completed simply because others hadn’t communicated. Then for those who receive financial aid of any kind, funding has to go through another office with more people a student has to work with. Overall, the student becomes the middle man or woman running around campus to meet every requirement on top of the stress of preparing to live in a different state or country.
One article from Mark Shay, CEO of website StudyAbroad101, discusses that US institutions need to overhaul the stubborn obstacles of endless steps and complicated credit transfer. According to Go Overseas, international programs flourished after the end of the Cold War. Study abroad has gone from a free market where students are able to choose any program as long as it generates a transcript from a recognized university, to a complicated maze of pre-approved programs, endorsed providers, consortium exchanges and third-party operated overseas campus centers and group tours. In the US, approximately half of the university students will transfer to another university, and yet we see these same universities fight to restrict semester-long departures from campus.
So how can colleges simplify the study abroad process? Before starting an application, global engagement should clearly describe everything studying abroad entails. While describing the wonderful locations and programs available to entice students, alumni and officials need to be realistic because chances are, if a student hasn’t studied abroad or doesn’t know much about it beyond their own intentions, they won’t ask those questions. I took a global learning class as a freshman, and even then, I was unaware of Course Approval Forms and potential financial aid complications. As with anything, especially if the study abroad process doesn’t change, education is crucial.
To further ease the stress of studying abroad prerequistes, the global learning office should be the key location for the entire application process. A student shouldn’t have to juggle a regular course load along with meeting at least three different people in three different locations before they say, “Bon voyage.” If the only mediator a student consults with is the global learning office to do everything they need, from the program, to communication for coordinating credit transfer and financial aid, that’s a huge weight off a student’s shoulders.
Some students themselves have ventured to conjure up some solutions to the hoop-jumping. One Nebraska student from China designed an Easy Transfer system that provides a single channel international students can use to pay their tuition, partnering with near and faraway banks to avoid using a complex system of financial transfer. A decade’s old decision from Harvard faculty created a “two-track system” for petitioning to study abroad. Students either continue to develop their own plans of study or simply choose from a list of approved programs, cutting out most of the document signing and original language requirements that held many students back. In an increasingly globalized society, a faculty- and campus-wide effort to improving every aspect of the study abroad experience is as valuable as studying abroad itself.
The last thing a study abroad student should have to worry about, especially while they’re already off campus, is figuring out how to make every single end meet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond grateful for all of the help I’ve received to make this journey a reality. However, for me to fully endorse other students to study abroad, the process needs improvement. Global learning and all administrators involved should have open communication that supports students ambitious enough to travel and study in a foreign location rather than hindering them. Any and all travel is influential in building tolerant, open-minded, worldly students. Let’s not let studying abroad feel like a world and many steps and documents away.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie