SJR Column: Study Abroad, June 2013
Lucius Seneca, the ancient Roman philosopher and statesman, said: “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” If conversations I had recently are any indication, many UIS students will return to the Springfield campus next fall with more vigorous minds indeed, along with some interesting stamps in their passports! These students are part of a larger trend of increasing global student mobility. In fact, according to UNESCO, there are 3.4 million students on the move every year all over the world.
UIS History major Caitlin Osborn is one of those 3.4 million this year. A senior from Edwardsville who is on the women’s golf team, Caitlin is spending much of this month in Rome studying the Eternal City with Professor of Comparative Religion David Bertaina. The class is titled “Empire and Faith in Rome” and Caitlin tells me she is especially looking forward to visiting the ruins of the Coliseum and participating in a papal visit that is part of the course. The goal of the class, according to Professor Bertaina, is “to evaluate the history of Rome through material artifacts, architecture, literature, religious movements, and artistic endeavors” – what he calls developing a historical imagination. Caitlin’s grandparents have also visited Rome and she is planning to compare her travel experiences with theirs when she returns home. What a wonderful opportunity for someone who plans to be a high school History teacher some day!
As this column goes to print, UIS Global Studies major and Springfield native Bridget Donley is in The Gambia, West Africa – for the second time! Bridget was inspired to study abroad after working in her father’s law firm helping immigrant families with citizenship issues. A year ago, Bridget was part of a UIS study abroad program in The Gambia that included a volunteer experience in a rural village school where she observed first-hand some of the educational and public health challenges in the developing world. She returns to that same village this month with supplies to add screens to the windows of the school and is taking along a suitcase full of books and school supplies that will become a small learning library for the children she worked with a year ago. Bridget’s study abroad experience is possible thanks to a generous study abroad scholarship fund that was established at UIS by Evelyn Zimmerman. What a terrific investment in the future of a student with aspirations to make a difference in the world.
Unlike many American students who study abroad, Adam Buck, a junior from Riverton, has a special advantage. He already has two years of Chinese language study at UIS – great preparation for his summer course in China, Korea and Japan. Interest in studying in China has been growing among American college students for several years and China is now the fifth-ranked destination (behind the UK, Italy, Spain and France) for U.S. students studying abroad. Adam is looking forward to hiking the Great Wall, seeing the cultural sights of Beijing and, of course, practicing his Chinese. Adam tells me that a key to his being able to study abroad was the availability of financial aid that can be applied to the costs. The UIS Office of Financial Assistance works with students early in their study abroad planning process, realizing that both real and perceived financial limitations are the major reasons that more students do not seek out overseas study opportunities.
In a world of growing interconnectedness, studying abroad is becoming an increasingly important part of the university experience.
A number of studies on the impact of study abroad have shown benefits, including improved academic performance and higher graduation rates. A recent University of Minnesota study indicated that students who study abroad are much more likely to become globally engaged citizens. Employers view job candidates who have studied abroad as self-motivated, adaptable and more likely to thrive in our increasingly multicultural workplaces – giving them an edge in the highly competitive job market.
Though about 56% of American students say they would like to study abroad while in college, only about 1% actually do during any given academic year (compared to 10% of European students). Thanks in part to an increasing number of faculty who are integrating study abroad opportunities into the student experience, we are expanding our study abroad capacity at UIS. I’m looking forward to talking with Caitlin, Bridget and Adam about their overseas experiences when they return; but I’m looking forward even more to increasing the number of UIS students for whom study abroad becomes a reality instead of only a dream.
Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield