Study abroad is within reach for most students

Jasmine C. Johnson

To study in another country while being fully immersed in a foreign culture has to be the highlight of any college student’s young life. So why don’t more students study abroad? Mainly because they don’t have the money. Or at least that’s what students think.

The British Council, Britain’s educational and cultural relations agency, conducted a study of perceived barriers to studying abroad and found that more than half of British students and nearly three-quarters of Americans said the expense was a likely obstacle to international study.

This perception that studying abroad is too expensive is a common misconception. According to Rhonda Waller, the UT Study Abroad Team advising leader, “The tuition on exchange or faculty-led programs is the same as it is in Austin.” 

In addition, UT offers many scholarships. Waller notes that “UT awarded almost one million dollars to students studying abroad in 2012-2013.”

Even if you’re not awarded a scholarship, Waller insists there are other funding opportunities available. “Most students’ financial aid is ‘portable’ and follows them abroad.”

Along with the perceived expense of study abroad, Waller notes lack of time and planning as key hindrances. 

Senior athletic training major, Halee Shadden, attests to these hindrances stating that, “At the beginning of my 3rd year at UT I switched to pre-med. Because of all the pre-requisite courses I had to cram in I was unable to fit in studying abroad.”

“Other myths out there are that exchange programs require high levels of foreign language proficiency, when in reality most don’t. Also, students think exchange applications are competitive when in reality most students who apply get their first choice,” Waller adds. 

Exchange programs offer students the opportunity to study at a foreign university during a semester, year or summer. Through these programs students can take courses in English or develop advanced foreign language skills while enrolling in courses abroad that will count toward their major, minor or other degree requirements.

These exchange programs present studying abroad as an investment rather than an expense. Study abroad adviser Chelsea Jones says she studied abroad to “make [herself] more marketable in such a competitive society.”

She added, “I knew this would be the cheapest opportunity I had to travel outside of the United States.” 

Speaking on her experience in Beijing, Jones elaborated on why studying abroad is important. 

“Being in another country and experiencing a lifestyle completely different from what you’re most comfortable with shifts your outlook on the way you live and the way you think.”

Waller classifies this type of cultural immersion as one of the upsides of exchange programs. “Most programs allow students to study alongside students from the host country. These are 4-5 month long experiences so there’s more time to delve into the culture and see things up close.”

And the benefits don’t stop there. Heather Barclay Hamir, director of the Study Abroad Office, conducted a study that examined degree completion rates and time-to-degree for the 2002 entering cohort of first-time-in-college freshmen at UT. The study is based on a sample of 8,000 UT freshmen, the results indicated that “Study abroad participants graduated at higher rates than either applicants or non-participants, and that participation increased the predicted probability of graduating in 5 years.”

If you’re like me, a semester might be too long to be abroad. However, there are also faculty-led programs called “Maymesters” which offer the same opportunities as exchange programs except that they’re taught by UT faculty members and are only four weeks long.

The deadline for spring study abroad programs has already passed, but there’s still time to apply for summer programs. The summer faculty-led programs applications are due Dec. 1 and summer affiliate applications are due Feb. 1. 

UT offers endless opportunities to study abroad and at $27,000 a year, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of them.

Johnson is an undeclared junior from DeSoto.