By Jordan Monroe
Every semester about 30 students from Western Carolina University study abroad in places like Australia, Japan or Spain. Why? Studying abroad has a lot of benefits-more than you might think. “To me [studying abroad] is the ultimate synthetic college experience,” said John Schweikart, WCU study abroad advisor.
Imagine: You’re a European History major and you have the opportunity to study in Wales, a thirty-minute plane ride from Paris and Rome and only a couple hours drive away from London. Think of learning history in the very halls in which it took place. You can study art in Florence, walk where Shakespeare lived and died, or see original paintings in the Louvre. You can experience first-hand what you could only see in a textbook at home. Any major can benefit from a semester of international education.
Studying abroad is also an excellent chance to surround yourself with a different culture. This goes beyond learning a new language. You will learn how to survive in new and culturally diverse situations, and you will walk away with a new level of independence and personal fulfillment. For this reason, Honors students are sometimes expected to keep a journal of their overseas experiences to record the changes they find in themselves.
While you are immersing yourself in culture you are doing something equally important: making international connections. Some students who study abroad find careers in the country in which they are studying. Even if you decide to come home, you will still have attained a valuable and lifelong network of people.
If you find the idea of studying abroad intimidating, just remember that getting started is very easy. The only requirements are having attended two semesters at Western and having a 2.75 GPA.
The first step is to go to an advising session at the Office of International Programs and Services (IPS). Advising sessions are held every Wednesday at 4:00 pm and Thursday at 11:00 am. If that does not fit your schedule, you can set up an appointment at a more convenient time. In these sessions you are grouped with two to six people and will receive information on study abroad programs, credit requirements and expenses. You are free to ask questions and get ideas and advice about where you want to go.
“The thing that I would really stress is that you come to an advising session,” IPS assistant Josie Bewsey said. “The group setting allows you to have a wider perspective. Sometimes another student will have a question you never even thought of until then.”
The second step is to do research on your own. Go online and look up the specific programs you are interested in. Western’s IPS website is very helpful for questions on studying abroad. You should also research the area you’re interested in and try to talk to people who have studied abroad there. You definitely need to talk to your department advisor early on to get a clear view of what classes you need to graduate on time and if the study abroad program you are considering will work with your major requirements.
You can spend up to three semesters abroad as an undergraduate, but you can go on as many summer programs as you like. About 70% of people who visit IPS want to go to Australia because it’s far enough away from home to be exotic, but people there speak English. Unfortunately, programs in Australia are very competitive. Even if you don’t get your first choice most students find the perfect program for them.
According to Schweikart you have to remember, “There are two parts [to picking a program]. You use your head to pick the place, but what is equally important is your heart-you have to be passionate and excited about what you want to do.”
You should not let language barriers dissuade you from studying abroad. There are programs that don’t require you to be proficient in another language or to even know the language at all; most of these programs are in Europe or East Asia.
Some things you should know when choosing a program are that some programs come directly through Western Carolina University, whereas some are through other companies, like UNCEP or ISEP. The requirements and application process for these different programs may vary. For example, programs labeled “XCH” mean they are exchange programs; this means that another student from that country will come to the United States, although maybe not to WCU. In exchange programs you only have to pay for what you would pay for a semester at Western, including tuition and fees. In direct exchange programs (DE) you enroll directly into the school in the country you want to study in and, depending on exchange rates and the cost of tuition and living expenses in the host country, the cost for that semester could be higher or lower than being at Western.
One thing you have to budget for is transportation. Many students let the high price or airline tickets keep them from studying abroad. Luckily, by next spring or fall, there will be endowments and scholarships you can apply for to cover the cost of transportation, some of them covering up to $1,000. Once you have an idea of where you want to go, you can set up an individual meeting with an IPS advisor who will help you through the application process. Your advisor can help you meet important deadlines and gather together documents you will need, such as your transcript and letters of reference. Another element they will help you with is writing your letter of intent: a statement of purpose that is required from all applications. When you complete your application your advisor starts a folder and sends it out to UNCEP, ISEP or wherever program you have chosen. Then, your journey begins.
Now is the best time of your life to study in another country, and through the study abroad programs at WCU you can travel overseas for a reasonable amount. In a world where employers are looking for people who have experience and can work with others internationally, studying abroad will set you apart and open lots of doors.
Students who wanted to learn more about studying abroad went to the second annual Study Abroad Fair on Thursday, September 18 in the UC. Thirty different countries were represented and people from UNCEP and ISEP answered questions that students had about their programs. Students could also talk to foreign students on exchange at WCU and people who have studied abroad from WCU in past semesters.
“People don’t tell you that it’s hard, but it’s one of the best experiences of your life,” Marysa Burchett, who spent a semester in Granada, Spain, said.
If you want to learn more about studying abroad you can visit the Office of International Programs and Services in 183 Belk Building anytime between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. You can also contact John Schweikart at (828) 227-7494 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Josie Bewsey can be reached at (828) 227-2569 or email@example.com. Or simply log on to http://www.wcu.edu/9245.asp, the study abroad website.