Studying abroad offers diverse experiences

With more and more college graduates entering the “real world” each year, it’s becoming harder to stand out on resumes and applications. USF’s study abroad program gives students the opportunity to get an upper hand on the competition at an affordable price.

“In this global world and international market place, every employer or graduate school, professional school, everyone is looking to hire or to take into their graduate studies programs people with international dimension to their education,” said James D. Pulos, assistant director of study abroad. “In reality, having done an international program, short term, summer or full semester, makes a student more marketable. It puts them at the top of every employer’s list. It’s one of the most important things now — the diversity issue, having internationalization. It’s a way to actually quantify it on your transcript.

“It’s a wonderful experience to travel overseas and backpack through Europe, but you can’t necessarily show that to an employer. If you can show them a transcript, you can quantify it. Soon, people will be in the minority if they don’t have an international dimension to their education,” Pulos said.

Pulos said a popular myth among students is that the costs of studying abroad are too high.

“In most cases, doing a study abroad program, in either a semester or a summer model, is nearly the same cost in a lot of instances as staying on campus,” Pulos said. “Often times, if you really compare and put pencil to paper and say ‘what is it to stay on campus?’ all costs included — books, tuition, housing, living arrangements, personal entertainment money, everything, and you compare that to going overseas, they come out nearly the same.”

The cost of the airline ticket can make the trip more expensive, but there is a way around this, Pulos said.

“Sometimes, when we have a favorable dollar overseas and the dollar is strong, even that can be off-set,” said Pulos.

Also, the study abroad office offers many scholarships to help students with the costs, Pulos said. Scholarships independent of the office are also available for studying abroad. He added that although it’s a stretch to say so, it’s possible that studying abroad can in fact be cheaper than staying on campus because of the other scholarship opportunities.

“Additionally, every source of financial aid that is available to the student … that they could use on campus are honored for studying abroad,” Pulos said. “So, the student has the same financial resources.”

Another myth is that students must speak the language of the country they are visiting. However, in almost every case, the language barrier will not interfere with the program, Pulos said.

Some students think that study abroad is only offered to certain majors or students of a certain academic standing, Pulos said. However, as long as a student has a minimum 2.5 GPA, the programs “are open, in almost every case, to all majors and all academic backgrounds,” he said.

There are two types of overseas programs at USF. One is the semester-long program, open to students of all majors or interests.

“The semester programs, in almost every case, offer a student nearly any class they can take here at the Tampa campus, because in that semester, we have an exchange partner,” Pulos said.

He added that the exchange programs are pan-collegiate: As long as students have the proper pre-requisites, courses within any major can be taken overseas if the college offers it. The study abroad office then works with the college to negotiate the equivalences of the credit.

The summer programs are not exchange programs and are therefore not as flexible. They each have academic focuses that vary from place to place, Pulos said. For instance, a summer program at the Charles Darwin University in Australia focuses on environmental studies, while a summer program in Paris focuses on French culture and civilization. Because of this, the courses available to the students are limited. These programs can range from two to six weeks.

For students looking to study abroad next spring, it’s not too soon to make an appointment with an advisor.

“We recommend, for a semester program, that (students) see us at least two semesters prior to when they want to go,” Pulos said.

For a summer program, a two-semester notice is ideal, but students can usually get things in order only a semester prior to leaving.

“We always make exceptions though,” said Pulos. “We try to avoid last-minute sign ups because it usually makes it harder on the student. We don’t want to run the risk of running into academic problems along the way.”

In terms of enrollment, the most popular overseas programs at USF are trips to Italy, Spain and Costa Rica. However, with the wide variety of programs available, each program is popular in its own right.

Because of the variety of programs available, students can earn credit towards their summer requirements, major requirements, electives and nearly every other requirement, Pulos said. He thinks that although this is important, another factor tops the list of why students should study abroad.

“The single most important reason is to broaden the horizons of the individual, to give them another way of looking at their own country and the country they visit, and to make a more internationally sensitive and open-minded person,” Pulos said. “The personal change it makes in a person is the most important thing.”

Pulos encourages students interested in studying overseas to start inquiring the study abroad office as soon as possible.

“What we have heard over and over again from every student on evaluations, in person, in cards, in anything — this is a life changing experience, and it will never, ever be easier to do than when you’re in college,” Pulos said. “(After college), the scholarships aren’t available, the financial aid’s not available, and the time will not be available. Now’s the time to do it.”