The Myths and Facts About Studying Abroad
There are so many options for studying abroad and excursions to broaden your horizons or round out your resume. Too often people discount the idea because they don't have enough information or the information they have is flawed. We help you separate fact from fiction.
Myth: Study abroad programs are only for students seeking a degree.
Fact: At many schools you don’t have to be enrolled in the school to participate. Students and non-students of all ages can take advantage of study abroad programs and trips that include education elements. Since there is an academic component there is typically a tuition fee included in the total cost of the trip. Those not interested in college credit can participate as well, but skip the additional tuition fee if they aren’t working on a degree or certificate.
Fact: Although all classes and trips must be taken for credit, many participants are not traditional students and choose these programs to learn from the field trip. Grading options can be arranged with the faculty to reflect these choices.
For example, if you want to travel to France and study under a French chef for 10 days, you can, says Maren McKellin, manager, Field and Experiential Learning/Study Abroad at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.
Myth: Study abroad programs are only for those studying foreign languages.
Fact: Study abroad programs cross almost all academic areas, says McKellin. At COD some of the programs include hiking in New Zealand, wine and gastronomy in France and studying history and culture in Russia.
Claudia Ovalle took advantage of a study abroad opportunity. A criminal justice major, she traveled to Britain through COD’s Crime and Punishment program, which compares the justice systems in the U.S. and Britain by visiting courts and prisons in both countries.
Myth: You have to be able to speak the language to participate.
Fact: McKellin says most of their foreign language study abroad opportunities do not require you have any previous knowledge of the language.
Omar Escamilla of Hanover Park and a student at COD did not speak Italian, but chose a language immersion course through the college because he wanted to experience a new culture. He lived with an Italian family whose English was limited, and took four hours of classes a day. He was surprised how quickly he picked up the language out of necessity.
Myth: You have to choose a study abroad program that relates to your major.
Fact: Study abroad programs are designed to help people broaden their horizons.
John Regentin, who designs wilderness experiences for the Association for Experiential Learning, says rather than looking only at what fits your academic focus, it can be more important to ask what trip or program will allow you to really challenge yourself or do something you couldn’t experience anywhere else?
Myth: Study abroad programs are too expensive.
Fact: While they do come with a price tag, students should not automatically assume they cannot afford to participate. Escamilla struggled with the cost, but then found a scholarship to help fund his trip.
Costs can vary from $500 to $5,000 depending on the tuition and travel expenses, McKellin says. If a dream trip or program with a perfect fit is outside your budget, McKellin says to consider different approaches such as saving for a trip a year or two in the future.
Financial aid, grants, scholarships and loans often can help students afford these programs.
“We don't want students to go into debt for these experiences, so we ask if they can manage it financially and help them come up with a plan to manage it,” McKellin says.
Myth: You have to be an experienced traveler and know how to navigate international travel.
Fact: One of the beauties of study abroad programs through a college is that a good portion of the trip is planned on your behalf. Air travel, additional transportation, lodging and even some meals are often part of the package. A bonus, McKellin says, is instructors on the trip can provide support as well as educational extras that you would not get traveling on your own.
Escamilla says that during a break from the program, instructors at the school in Italy helped him and several other students plan an independent excursion to Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera where they walked through each of the five unique and colorful coastal villages. Learning to navigate the train, bus and taxis in a foreign country was a new and empowering experience, he says.
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