During a time where chaos seems to reign supreme in the world and college debt scares more than a fraction of students, studying abroad is not high on everyone’s list. Although you have to sometimes shell out more than you would like for an opportunity to study in a foreign country opposed to going on a vacation to that place, the benefits when you return seem to be more heavily in your favor.
“Study abroad boosts students self-confidence and helps them find their place in the world,” Peggy Johnson-Finnerty, Associate Director of Education Abroad at SCSU said. “[It] pushes students in a good way to learn.”
Immersing yourself in another culture with a language barrier bodes well for many students who are working on improving their skill set. “The Chile program here at St. Cloud State is where many students go to improve their Spanish,” Johnson-Finnerty said.
Kate Fearing, a junior at SCSU and a Spanish Education major studied in Madrid, Spain at a language institute through an off-campus program to become more fluent in Spanish and the culture.
“You are challenged in ways that you aren’t when you are in your comfort zone,” Fearing said. “You grow the most when you are outside of your comfort.”
Students from all over joined Fearing in Madrid, including from Korea, England and even a 50-year-old woman from Russia. Fearing commented that her confidence level is higher than before she left, and that learning to navigate in a foreign culture helped grow her independence.
There are misconceptions about studying abroad, including the common thought, “It’s not safe”. Johnson-Finnerty assures the safety of all students is the school’s top priority when studying in a different country.
Another common myth is that athletes and those with full-time responsibilities cannot take time off to study abroad. “We just had an athlete study abroad last semester, and she did it in her off season,” Johnson-Finnerty said. Otherwise multiple short-term programs are offered during school breaks and summer at SCSU for those who cannot leave for a complete semester.
A recent survey performed by IES Abroad found that almost two-thirds of their alumni were hired within two months upon graduating with their undergraduate degree. Their alumni also earned on average $6,000 more per year in their starting salaries when compared to the National Career Outcomes Report on recent U.S. college graduates.
SCSU works on adding new countries and schools to their education abroad family often, to bridge the gap of international learning.
“Malaysia is a new one that is sort of unique for us,” Johnson-Finnerty said. “And Södertörn University in Sweden is a new program.”
Johnson-Finnerty said having a study abroad opportunity in Sweden just seems fitting, with the Scandinavian background that makes up so much of the state of Minnesota.
One of the arguably most unique programs that is offered at SCSU, which Johnson-Finnerty and many other SCSU staff agree with on, is Alnwick Castle.
Alnwick Castle lies in North-East England in the county of Northumberland and has lent a part of the castle to SCSU since 1981 for the school’s study abroad program. Students not only live and study within the castle walls during their time in England, but they work and perform duties throughout the grounds as well.
Sophomore at SCSU, Karim Nabhan, studied at Alnwick Castle on the exchange program this past fall semester and the experiences he had are already some of his favorite lifetime memories.
“Living in a castle is so cool!” Nabhan said. “It is awesome to wake up and walk down the stairs and see tons of tourists touring the castle that you actually live in.”
Alnwick Castle played host to scenes from the Harry Potter movies, as well as Downton Abbey and multiple other television shows and movies. More dominantly, it has been the home to the Percy family for over 700 years – today, Ralph Percy, the 12th Duke of Northumberland resides in the Castle with his family.
He speaks of the rich British heritage Alnwick Castle shares, “It’s walls are steeped in history and filled with tales of warfare, romance and chivalry,” Percy states.
“The only negatives is that it is an old building,” Nabhan said. “So there are definitely areas that could be improved within the castle to fit in a more modern setting. But, we do have wifi and we have a lot of amenities and the castle is so large and so awesome. Every one of the workers in the castle is so nice too, we’ve gotten to know a lot of them!”
Nabhan’s view on U.K. culture has changed immensely after being abroad. “It’s incredible, the experiences you can have that really do change your perception on everyday things that you may not have seen before.”
Dr. Gareth John from the Geography department at SCSU and advisor for the British Studies Minor, is taking students on a brand new, short-term study abroad to the British Isles during Summer 2017. John is originally from Wales and has led a short-term program to his home country four times, as well as been a part of the Alnwick program three times.
John has been wanting to do a British Isles program for a few years. “I was one of the faculty behind the creation of the popular British Studies Minor,” he said. “Which allows students studying in the UK to pursue their experience as an integral part of their degree program, adding value both to their study abroad experience and their degree and bridging their experience abroad with classes taught on campus at SCSU. I suppose it was bound to happen as some point,” John said.
In terms of education abroad being beneficial, John asked, “How many times have you been on vacation somewhere and not known the important or most interesting sites to visit or even best or most cost-effective places to eat and stay? Well, that work is done for you and you learn the skills for traveling that you can draw on for the rest of your life. Plus, you earn college credit in the process,” he said.
The British Isles trip will focus on heading to places around the entire isles, not just England. “[It] is a chance-in-a-lifetime tour of the most celebrated and storied places in the UK and Ireland,” John said. “London, Stonehenge, Bath, Wales, Dublin, Belfast, Liverpool, Manchester, the Lake District, Alnwick Castle, Edinburgh, Loch Ness, Glasgow and York.”
With not only culturally diverse experiences from students, but positive career outcomes and higher confidence levels – the risks of studying in a foreign country seem to clobber any negative perceptions that may appear.