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Around the World - Cross-cultural Studies on Campus or Abroad

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Around the World - Cross-cultural Studies on Campus or Abroad

From the MCG 2012 Sophomore edition
By Megan Elliott

College is more than what you learn in the classroom.

When you can get your message out around the world instantly by phone, text, Skype or Twitter; when business "meetings" are conducted online through software like Go To Meeting; and when virtual offices are now commonplace, it's clear how global our society has become.

So, given the current state of the economy and the high competition for jobs, how can you get an edge? Think global! Perhaps the best way to have that something extra is to gain experience first-hand by studying abroad and/or by taking courses (or perhaps majoring) in international programs being offered by many schools.

Studying abroad

Studying abroad for college students has come a long way. Professors and students know that studying in another country is essential to any education in today's global society. Phillipa Hain, senior marketing officer of Regent's College London shares her school's stance: "Graduates need to be able to work in and lead cross-functional and multi-cultural teams around the world." She continues, "Students find that by studying abroad they have a chance to learn a great deal about themselves, the country and their ability to live and work in a different culture."

Lee Davis, head of communications and marketing at LaGrange College in Georgia, agrees, "We've seen students return to campus with new perspectives on where they fit into a global economy. They come back with a refreshed sense of cooperation and new confidence."

It's not just the academics of the study abroad experience that's important. Perhaps more valuable is being part of and living in another culture for six to eight weeks or for a semester or year. As Meghan Greene, marketing director of the international programs at Florida State University (FSU) points out, "Studying abroad gives students the opportunity to engage in a culture different from their own. They also have a unique learning experience, where the city becomes their class-room." Greene continues, "The skills and experience that are gained from studying abroad and developing a global perspective give students an edge when seeking employment after graduation. It is a clear way for students to set themselves apart from their peers."

Where to go

There are several options when it comes to studying abroad, depending on your particular school. While the larger schools may offer more choices, even the smaller ones offer some exciting options.

LaGrange College, for example, only has about 1,100 students, but the school offers some great programs for group travel abroad during the January term. In 2010, the School of Art & Design took faculty and students to France for "Photographing Paris." This year, among the many options available, students can visit health museums, hospitals and historic sites in London through "Nursing Since Nightingale," or head to Ecuador for 11 days to follow "The Path of Darwin: The Galapagos Islands."

Larger schools offer more selection. Florida State University offers over 50 programs in more than 20 locations, operating year-round study centers in London, England; Florence, Italy; Valencia, Spain and Panama City, Panama. Those locations all host broad curriculum programs. Summer programs are faculty-led and tend to be more major-specific. While summer program locations include far-flung places like China, the Czech Republic and Turkey, the United Kingdom and other Western European countries like France and Italy tend to be the most popular.

Whatever country you choose for study abroad, be sure to follow the travel guidelines for the program. A year in Spain might give you time to explore nearby countries with a Eurail pass, but a trip to Venezuela might not make for good border-hopping due to the violence in Colombia. If extensive travel is sure to be part of your plan when studying abroad, do your homework. (The U.S. Department of State posts a regularly updated list of countries to avoid.) The more comfortable you feel in a country, the better your experience.

When to go

Most American students study abroad for a semester or a six-week summer program. Although the majority of students go abroad during their junior or senior year (or during the summer between those years), FSU offers a unique "First Year Abroad" program where freshmen begin their college experience by studying abroad their first year.

If you're more comfortable getting a year or two attending college in the States under your belt, you can attend the more traditional summer or semester abroad. The University of San Diego (USD) offers an even shorter option: The Second Year Experience program. Created in 2009, the program allows incoming freshmen to sign up for an intersession trip taken when they're sophomores. Destination choices include Barcelona, Florence, Hong Kong or London. In 2009, a whopping 65.7 percent of USD graduates had studied abroad!

How to pay

Payment is usually the obstacle students have to overcome in order to go global, but there are actually several options. Most schools accept the same financial aid abroad that they accept at their primary college. Greene explains FSU's policy: "Students are able to apply many forms of financial aid to their program fees, including Bright Futures and Florida Prepaid. There are also scholarship opportunities for students studying abroad."

LaGrange College also offers scholarships. "Our new ‘Study Away' program, allows $2,500 to juniors or seniors for a study abroad experience. We also give numerous scholarships and partial scholarships, with upperclassmen getting first priority," Davis explains.

Just remember, travel isn't your only expense. "It is important to take living costs into consideration," says Hain. "These costs are unlikely to be covered."

Closer to home

You don't necessarily need to pack a suitcase to submerge yourself in a foreign culture. Many schools now offer specialized international programs right on campus!

Clemson's Center for China Studies, for example, facilitates exchanges and collaborations with China for expert speakers, training programs, research and outreach activities. At Rutgers, students who enroll in the Middle Eastern Studies Program (MESP) are offered 152 courses, including 32language courses. But the program is more than just classroom lectures. In conjunction with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the MESP hosts a range of social, cultural and educational events related to the Middle East.

And don't assume a major through Rice University's Chao Center for Asian Studies will focus solely on learning Japanese or the division of Korea. Courses draw from a number of interesting areas: film, Tibetan studies, history of art, medieval studies, Arabic, Russian, and studies in women, gender and sexuality.

Choosing a major offered through a global studies program can be broad (e.g. a degree in international business) or specific (e.g. a concentration on Southeast Asia). At College of Charleston, where international studies is the school's fastest-growing major, students choose from a concentration that focuses on Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, or international comparative literature. Learning about other countries, customs and people can change your perspective on life. Whether you choose to study abroad or learn through a global program right on campus, understanding cultures beyond our borders will you give you a competitive advantage when it's time to head out into the REAL world . . . the job market!

For more information go to mycollegeguide.org and type in "study abroad."

Megan Elliott is a freelance writer based out of Florida.
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