By Michael Ulrich, Ph.D., previous Director,
Education Abroad Office
As the start of summer shines promisingly on the horizon, perhaps you and your family are looking forward to some travel together, maybe even to an international location. Juggling work schedules, summer camps, weddings, graduations, family reunions and all the other obligations and opportunities of this season, however, complicates travel planning. Coordinating everyone for one week away is challenge enough. Can you imagine three weeks away? Three months must seem unimaginable!
When you finally arrive at your destination, possibly exhausted from the preparation and packing, what do you have planned? Can you imagine an extensive historical tour through the streets of London? A backstage visit to a traditional Japanese theater? Building a school in Cameroon? Or perhaps observing unique wildlife on the Galapagos Islands?
Seem unlikely? It probably is – unless you are a study abroad student.
At the University of Maryland, we encourage students to think outside their borders. They may travel as adults, some for as many as several weeks at a time, but the opportunity to live and learn abroad as an undergraduate is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Consider this:
If this all sounds too good to be true, it isn’t! Almost 1,600 UMD students followed their dreams overseas last year and returned with a renewed sense of self, citizenship and professional goals.
Perhaps you are thinking it sounds financially infeasible for your family’s budget; however, the expense of studying abroad is more manageable than most parents realize. In-state students can apply all of their federal, state and university aid on University of Maryland study abroad programs. If you are an out-of-state family, both your federal and university aid can be applied to a study abroad experience as well. There are also additional scholarships available only to study abroad students, and these are often widely available to needy applicants. Who knows—you may even save money by studying abroad. There are some wonderful international programs that are less expensive than a semester at College Park.
Has someone in your family recently assumed the responsibility of a car loan for a vehicle that will last a few years? Investing in a study abroad experience will propel your son or daughter into a lifetime of learning! President Mote has repeatedly stated that he believes every undergraduate student should have an international experience. In the age of globalization, a student who is prepared to meet the world with open arms and an open mind is likely to soar above any peers not poised to do so. Employers and professional schools consistently cite flexibility, team work, communication skills, and leadership potential as major areas they consider in applicants. Imagine that your student is 1% of the undergraduates nationwide who studies abroad and can discuss their qualifications in these important areas within the context of their international experience.
Study abroad programs are open to students from virtually all majors on campus. And, by working with their academic advisor and carefully selecting the appropriate experiences, students are still able to graduate in four years. All study abroad experiences are based on a foundation of learning, but the ways this can be accomplished are as diverse as the places on the planet our students select. It is possible to conduct an international internship and gain valuable practical experience in a chosen field. Service-learning opportunities are available to undergraduates invested in bringing the richness of their own culture to people in need, even as they look forward to bringing back with them a lifetime of memories too precious to be priced. While many study abroad programs are based on solid, classroom instruction, many also add academically structured excursions to sites of interest so that students can see their environment as living laboratories of learning.
One wonderful way to know the world is by learning the languages they speak. There are abundant ways for students to think outside their borders while speaking in a foreign tongue. It is advisable for students to learn at least some of the language in the country where they live (even if this is not a focus of their study and English is not the first language of that country) since this is such a fundamental component of any culture. There are ample opportunities for English-only speaking students to exchange some jolly good vocabulary in London, a “g’day mate” in Sydney or to discover that virtually everyone in Copenhagen is a fluent English speaker.
Study abroad is almost exclusively unique to the undergraduate experience. It can be affordable—even less expensive than a traditional campus semester—and helps students distinguish themselves in professional pursuits. As they learn from the people they encounter, they are also provided with opportunities to participate in global conversations regarding human rights, economic growth and religious inquiry. Thinking outside their borders sets the stage for a lifetime of looking beyond and below the surface of where they live, work and play so they can see the forces that shape our world. We look forward to meeting with your student on campus and telling them to go away… to Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and Australia! But we do want them to come back and share their experiences with other Americans, so our planet can become a bit smaller and the possibilities much bigger.
For more information and to learn more about study abroad opportunities at UMD, visit the Study Abroad Web site at www.umd.edu/studyabroad. You can also contact the Study Abroad Office directly at 301.314.7746 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.