Last semester I participated in a study abroad program in Nijmegen, Netherlands. I blogged about my time there for The Bulletin’s Web site. But I feel like there were not enough people who received the message I was trying to send to all ESU students—study abroad!
In the spring semester of 2009, I was enrolled in a class which was required for all students planning a study abroad. In total, the class had nine participants. This, to me, is a shame. I can tell you flat out, deciding to study abroad through an ESU exchange program was the greatest decision I have ever made
I know that money is the main argument against studying abroad. But with exchange programs such as ISEP (International Student Exchange Programs), or AIFS (American Institute for Foreign Study) available through ESU, studying abroad become more affordable. For the same rate as one is currently paying to go to Emporia State, one could study for a semester or year in any number of countries in Europe, Asia and South America.
Also, there are several scholarships available to students who wish to continue their education abroad. The Gilman scholarship, which is available to those who receive the federal Pell Grant, grants the recipient up to $5,000 to help with their study abroad expenses. In addition, a scholarship unique to ESU is the Provost Airfare scholarship. This covers some or all of the airfare expenses to and from the student’s destination. In my experience, airfare was the biggest expense I incurred during the entire process, which gives ESU students a distinct advantage in this regard.
One other large deterrent for those considering studying abroad is that there is the assumption that knowledge of a foreign language is a prerequisite. While this may be true in some cases, all of my classes were conducted in English, and an increasing amount of universities are using English in classrooms as English asserts itself further as a major language in academia. Many of the students I met were studying to further their fluency in English, which meant that other native English speakers and I were constantly asked questions about the English language. In fact, this got me interested in teaching English as a foreign language, which is a program offered at ESU.
Adversely, I would suggest studying abroad for the purpose of increasing one’s knowledge of another language. Knowing a foreign language is an incredible asset in nearly every profession in today’s world and can create a plethora of opportunities for a person after graduation. If one already knows another language, what better way is there of increasing this knowledge than to learn by submersion? Learning Spanish in Spain, Mexico or South America can help one learn a language far better than simply learning the language in a classroom. And guess what? ESU offers study abroad programs in all of those countries.
Studying abroad also gives you the opportunity to improve the world’s opinion of America. During my travels, I met Europeans who get their views of Americans from MTV or American movies. Though there may be Americans who prop these stereotypes up, I have met more U.S. citizens who break that stereotype than fit into it. By going to another country and meeting new people, we can help break stereotypes that have hurt how other countries view America for years. Likewise, any stereotypes we have of Europeans or South Americans can be broken by going to these places and meeting some of these people.
Achieving a global perspective, which is immensely important in understanding global politics, or a general knowledge of how the world works, is the number one way to combat the hunkering view that many from other countries have of Americans, and America in general. To better the world in any way, each individual in the global community has to understand the conditions and places in which others in the community live. Without that understanding, progress and compromise is impossible.
Perhaps the greatest reason to study abroad, and a reason that cannot be given a value, monetary or otherwise, is to better oneself. There is no greater way to increase one’s sense of self-confidence or individuality than to embark on a journey with no one but oneself to lean on. Having no parents or friends to fall back on may seem like an uncomfortable situation, but for me, it was what made my experience abroad the greatest experience of my life.
If you’re a fan of meeting new people, trying new things, achieving goals, or simply making memories that will last a lifetime, I urge you to go to the Office of International Education (located on the bottom floor of Memorial Union, next to the Post Office) or log onto their website at www.emporia.edu/oie, and ask about information for study abroad. I cannot promise you it will not take work to get yourself abroad, but I can promise you that once you get to your host country and the experience really starts, you won’t regret it. You can thank me later.