First semester study abroad gaining in popularity
by Rebecca Walker
High school seniors around the country have been finalizing their plans for the fall over the past month.
The work force and college are common options, but an increasing number of students will be spending the upcoming fall season abroad. A slew of U.S. colleges and universities offer freshmen the option to study abroad before they ever take a class on their home campus.
Institute of International Education (IIE) President Allan Goodman advises students to “come to school with a passport and in your freshman year, use it.”
Goodman empathizes that it is difficult for juniors to fit studying abroad into their schedules, which is why he is a proponent of heading abroad during the first year of college.
The number of U.S. citizens with passports has doubled over the past decade, with just over one-in-three citizens holding a valid one. Though most travel by U.S. citizens is kept to the Western Hemisphere, many of the study abroad programs offered to first year students extend beyond the Western world.
Michigan State University for example, has a great option for freshman electing to study abroad the summer before their freshman year. Who wouldn’t want to take their course Lifestyles of the Globally Hip: Pop Culture, Media, and Education, in China?
Students have the opportunity to learn about the ways in which cultures socialize, using schools, media, games, and graphics as their medium. Additionally, MSU has partnered with a group of local students, so that those participating in the Freshman Seminar Abroad will have the opportunity to explore Chinese culture via forging relationships.
Jim Lucas, who coordinates Freshman Seminars Abroad, said that “75% of students who participate in these programs end up going abroad later in their career.”
This is not only because of the positive experience that they had abroad, but the transitions that surrounded them. MSU requires that all Freshman Seminar Abroad students undergo both pre-orientation as well as an unpacking workshop and required re-entry activities.
Why is this a nice feature? Because though going abroad is always nice it itself, it makes a larger impact when you have time to properly reflect on not only on how the experience affected you, but how to use that experience to shape your future.
Managing the costs
Many students might think that studying abroad so early will be beyond their budgets. Think again.
Schools like Florida State University offer financial incentives to those who spend their entire freshman year abroad, by assessing in-state tuition to those students for the rest of their matriculation.
General Education credits can be fulfilled at all four abroad locations where first years can enroll.
Don’t speak another language? No need to worry, their freshman courses are all taught in English — unless of course you’re taking a course to study the language of the host country.
When asked whether being English-only prevents the students from immersing in the host culture, Meghan Greene, FSU’s Marketing Director for International Programs, said that “many of our students volunteer during their time abroad. For example, in our Florence program, students spend time at a local nursing home listening to stories about Italian culture and history.”
It is connections like this that make all the difference when you study abroad.
Of course, studying abroad during your freshman year is not only about making connections with your host culture.
“Experiential learning programs bonds students to their university,” says Mark Hayes, Associate Director of the AU Abroad office at American University.
American University will be implementing its pilot freshman abroad program this upcoming summer.
“The way we have designed this course is for one credit to be taken abroad and the remaining two to be completed at AU in the fall,” said Hayes.
Students on experiential programs such as this bring the experience back with them and deeply connect with the school before their traditional school year even begins.
Though only four percent of those who study abroad are freshman, that number has doubled over the past decade. With all the benefits of freshman year programs it’s clear that more and more first years will be spending the beginning on their undergraduate careers abroad.
Rebecca Walker is a second year graduate student pursuing a degree in International Communication at American University. Whenever she has the opportunity to intertwine her passions for international affairs, education, and writing, she’s happy. Feel free to follow her on Twitter.