Why don’t students take advantage of study abroad?

In the United States, less than two percent of college students study abroad. This number scales with Western Carolina University where, according to International Programs and Services, out of over 8,000 students, only about 200 decide to study abroad.

With the benefits and experience that this program can offer, why are students not taking advantage of it?

Study Abroad information booth at International Festival. Photo by Kayla Minion.

Study abroad is a program that is administered through colleges as an alternative way for students to earn credit while traveling. This experience offers more than just a classroom environment. The rule is that if you can get academic credit than you can do anything. This means that students would be able to gain credit while doing an internship, service learning, or even volunteer hours. As long as there is an academic adviser to sign off on the work being done, the credit can be earned.

“You can go pretty much anywhere in the world,” encouraged International Programs and Services Graduate Assistant, Brandon Helper. The demand for studying abroad in Australia, England, or Canada is the highest above other countries for students from the U.S. This is due to the language barrier in other areas.

“A lot of students are afraid to go to different countries that primarily speak a language other than English,” explained Helper.

One of the options students are offered when traveling to a foreign area are language immersion programs. This would mean that the majority of the student’s classes would be in the other language and the student would have a chance to stay with a host family. This method is normally put in place when the student has already begun to study the language previously, for example Spanish.

WCU alumni O’Shay Massey enjoying her time in Spain. Photo courtesy of Massey.

“Studying in a different country helps with the language fluency because you’re immersed in it,” said WCU alumni O’Shay Massey, who studied abroad in Spain.

Finances are another reason that may hinder students from looking into study abroad. However, the fact is that going to another school in a different area through this program could cost the same amount of money as staying here. The WCU study abroad program is generally done through either an exchange or a direct enrollment. The exchange program method is the most affordable option. This is because students will remain to pay the same price for tuition, fees, housing, and meal plans as at WCU.

With it being the most affordable comes with it being the most competitive. Because this is a nation wide program, students from across the U.S. fight for the same spots.

Although direct enrollment would most likely end up being more expensive than exchange, it is also more reliable. This method simply requires the student to pay international fees along side the school’s own fees, but in the long run it is much easier to get in this way.

“The great part about both of these options is that financial aid is still applicable for either,” Helper pointed out.

Student Karli Pearl took advantage of the study abroad opportunity.

“It was probably the cheapest option to go for five months and live in Australia as a student because they work very well with students and discounts. It is the cheapest way to travel in general as well,” said Pearl.

Hear more about Pearl’s experiences in the video below.

When traveling to different countries, there could always be a risk. This is when the fear of danger comes into play. IPS recognizes that fear and has the students’ best interests in mind. This is why the area that the student wants to go to must not be on the high alert and warnings list. These areas are categorized based off of events that have occurred or even natural disasters.

“If it is not safe for the student to travel to the area, the school will under no circumstances send them there,” assured Helper.

The staff at IPS guarantee that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. Between having the chance to travel and experience other point of views and cultures, students have the opportunity to develop newfound outlooks themselves.

Student Karli Pearl visiting Mt. Cook, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Pearl.

“I went to South Korea summer of 2014 to have some fun and learn something,” Helper reflected about his own study abroad experience. “The take away was about opening my mind and looking at different point of views and different cultures. How much of who you are is shaped by where you grew up and were taught?”

According to IPS, study abroad is truly there to encourage students to branch out and learn, whether they are learning about other ways of life or simply about themselves. IPS and study abroad are there to help students get the most out of their time enrolled. Helper listed a final summary regarding the study abroad process and how students can get involved.

“I always tell students — figure out where you want to go, research the country and the institution, see if they have the course that you need, talk to your adviser, and then a couple of months before the application is due come to sit down and meet with us and we can discuss your options.”

Massey encourages those interested in study abroad to go for it.

“I would tell anybody to put that on your list before you die, go out of the country. Just go somewhere else to experience how different it is from here because there is so much more out there.”