Studying abroad broadens global perspective

Whether it’s sitting on the beach in Costa Rica and studying for an exam, or sipping tea with friends in England during a break from class, the university’s study abroad office offers hundreds of study abroad opportunities each year.

Though USF World offers many of these programs on the Education Abroad website, students can study internationally in a variety of capacities.

“Study abroad, I like to think, is many parts,” said Jim Pulos, associate director of Education Abroad. “The big delineations would be study abroad — faculty-led group programs — and then exchange models, where they can go back and forth. We deal in connecting students with service learning work, with internships abroad, and volunteer work abroad, and even help advise students on how they might work abroad.”

But Study Abroad is more than taking classes in another country and having fun, especially at USF. With dozens of programs running all year round including some at sea, USF has a faculty-led program for just about every major.

Lia Fleming, a junior majoring in health sciences, studied abroad the summer following her freshman year and said it was an amazing experience.

“I was trying to find something to do in college, something to get involved with,” she said. “I walked past the study abroad fair and just looked around, got some brochures and talked to an adviser. And by the time I made it back to the dorm, I decided I really wanted to do this.”

She described the decision as part impulse and part sense. As an out-of-state student, she would have struggled to find housing near campus to fulfill her summer course requirement. Additionally, tuition for the classes abroad was competitive with in-state rates. 

Fleming is just one of many students on campus who have studied abroad. According to the Education Abroad website, 1,405 students, representing 19.81 percent of the students at USF, have also done so in the last year.

Fleming attended USF’s most popular program, USF in Florence, which takes students to Italy for the summer.

“During the weekends, we tended to travel around a lot,” she said. “We had classes Tuesdays and Thursdays — and Wednesdays, sometimes — so you really have Friday to Monday to travel around.”

USF direct programs, which are faculty led, offer courses in the target country, though language proficiency is not always required. For instance, Fleming did not speak Italian when she went abroad. However, some programs encourage beginner-level proficiency, and others offer courses in the target country’s language.

“We went … on a guided tour, these five little towns on the Italian coastline, connected by a subway and hiking trails,” Fleming said. “The subway was on a train strike — the workers — so the train stopped moving, stopped coming, so we were stranded in this one town because one of the trails was closed. I guess one of the trains ended up coming, but I was stuck in a little restaurant trying to get lunch, and me and a couple of friends got left behind.

“We finally caught another train, but we were no longer on a guided tour, we were by ourselves. So, we got to the next town, and the way to get to the final town was to hike. We picked a trail, but we didn’t pick the right one. I mean, as many things went wrong that day, it was probably one of the best experiences I had.”

Pulos said it is this kind of learning, cultural and social, that students get in spades while studying abroad. 

“The learning takes place as much outside of the classroom as it does inside the classroom,” he said. “And that’s something that with an open mind and an open spirit, students will say ‘I learned so much in the classroom, … but I learned a huge amount just by living in this new environment and this new nation that became my home.’”

Pulos said the kinds of experiences students get from study abroad are priceless, especially since many employers and graduate schools consider students more highly when they have studied abroad.

“The student who graduates with an internationalized education, and this can be … anything they can quantify on their transcript, … has a distinct advantage when it comes to acceptance into all higher education — graduate school, professional schools like medical school, law school, et cetera — certainly any career path,” Pulos said. 

“Truly, they’re catapulted to the top of a selection list, from a graduate school to an employer, no matter what area they plan to go into.”

According to a report from the University of California-Merced, 97 percent of students who study abroad found employment within 12 months of graduation, with 25 percent higher salaries. 

Additionally, in terms of continuing education, 90 percent of students who studied abroad who applied were accepted into their first or second choice graduate school.

However, one problem often dampens the spirit of students looking to study abroad: finances. Many USF undergrads depend on financial aid of some kind to fund their college career, and often that aid does not seem flexible enough to allow for studying abroad. 

While programs range in cost in the thousands of dollars, financial aid for summer courses can be applied to study abroad programs, and many dozens of scholarships are available, with new ones introduced every year.

The problem with quantifying the cost of studying abroad, Pulos said, is that many aspects of cost must be considered. For instance, a student studying domestically may live at home, so a study abroad program will cost more in terms of housing. And lost wages are another consideration.

However, the university and USF World work with students to provide financial assistance.

“If you start your (application) process early, …  you can go through scholarships, you can find loans, you can save up for it,” Fleming said. “And a lot of people don’t know that if you do an exchange, it’s the same rate as your tuition.”

Fleming is used to giving such advice, as she is a GloBull Ambassador. These students have gone abroad and came back wanting to share their experience and help others study abroad.

“To reach out to students more, to get the conversation rolling on study abroad: that’s our biggest goal,” she said. “Once people get the idea in their head, they’re pretty determined to study abroad.”