I have lived overseas and as a college expert I can see the value of a cross cultural experience for the college student. The United States is a country of immigrants but contrary to countries such as Europe and Australia, we do not always expose our youth to other cultures. Opinions are made from being exposed to cultures in the neighborhoods of the USA. For example, China town, the border towns of Mexico, little Italy
Europe continues to be the most popular destination for American students heading overseas, but this is changing. More and more students are choosing to study all over the world. China has become a great opportunity for studying abroad with many opportunities on graduation for career advancement especially if the language skills are good in Chinese. There are many reasons for your daughter or son to choose to live and learn in a European location-especially if she or he has made linguistic or other academic preparations for such study. My recommendation is to choose a program in non-Western regions. The whole idea is to study in a culture that is dramatically different from that of the West. We want an experience that is especially eye opening and rewarding for students. Obviously, somewhat different considerations of cost, transportation, communications, ethnicity, language, safety, and health can come into play for students and parents considering programs in such locations. Some students enjoy studying in a country of their ancestors. Another decision factor is future job opportunities. A student may become even more excited about their career choices after the semester or year abroad. They also make amazing contacts that come in handy later. Or they may make a complete change. After experiencing this Semester Abroad, often a student realizes a life passion or a life skill that they were not aware of.
Another skill I teach is “Always be building your resume.” I teach my parents, not to finance activites that do not lend to the long term goal of parental independence. We want our children to develop their own skills so they can be independent of us. A truism of campus advisers, one affirmed by returning students, is that the longer the program, the greater the intellectual and personal impact, in terms of academic benefit, cross-cultural understanding, career preparation, and maturation. Long-term, fully-integrated programs are much more likely to provide students with the cross-cultural skills employers seek. It looks good on the resume. Alternatively, the availability of shorter programs makes study abroad a possibility for students who previously could not have considered it for time or financial reasons. Long or short, the most important thing is that the program’s goals be commensurate with the time allotted for their accomplishment. Parents are correct to be suspicious of programs that seem to claim or promise too much. Parents can play an important role in assisting their son or daughter by questioning such claims. Programs through the University that your child is attending is a good place to start but go further than that. Find out if the University provides on site involvement during the experience. I have seen Universities that have charged full tuition, provide zero support to the students in the foreign country. If you are paying the tuition for that semester, then as a consumer, you should expect the University to support your student while they are studying abroad. Another question that needs to be answered is the academic credit your student will receive and how that fits for meeting graduation requirements. You still want your student to graduate on time. Every semester your student remains in school past the usual time requirement, just adds to the college debt.
Studying abroad used to mean a commitment to a full year of living and learning abroad, usually during the junior year. But now short-term options abound, some as short as three weeks, so students can find excellent programs that match the amount of time they can afford to be away from their home campus.The “junior year abroad” model is still the most popular, although students who study abroad in their freshman or sophomore years often get a head start on some of the soul searching and career planning that comes with overseas travel. On the other hand, the curricular strengths of study abroad programs suggest that the experience is ideally suited to juniors and seniors who have chosen an academic concentration and are seeking ways to deepen and diversify it in ways not possible on campus. I encourage parents to expose your children to geographic areas outside their comfort zones. This can be travel in the USA. Each area of the country, even across town in some cities is completely different. We want students that have tolerance and exposure. The graduate who is willing to move and accept assignments in different locations, have many career opportunities. If you have younger children, begin early. Education is so much more that what is learned in schools and at college.
A parent should not force the issue of studying overseas. It takes a certain personality and it may be too big a stretch for a student that is dependent, fearful or immature. A different type of overseas experience may be appropriate for this student like a volunteer vacation or experience with Habitat for Humanity. Something along this line, that is shorter in duration and structured. In the overseas experience, students who need structure, guidance, discipline, and encouragement should opt for a classroom-centered program with strong on-site support staff and planned enrichment activities. Students who are already adventurous, independent, resourceful, and prepared intellectually and linguistically may choose a direct-enrollment, full-immersion program or an independent internship. Most students fall somewhere between these extremes and will be best served by programs that offer support as well as opportunities for independence. I urge both the student and the parents that I coach, not to accept just “any” program. Ask questions, find out what is offered, find out who the contact person is during the experience and have the costs explained. There are good programs and not so good programs. Then, there are incredible programs. That is what you aim for! Parents, you may be surprised by the sudden maturation that happens during this experience. It truly can be life altering.
While most students going overseas have the idea that they are going to fulfill their academic goals and obligations… A smaller proportion of student do the travel overseas experience to gain practical experience, learn new skills, and increase their career prospects. About 10,000 U.S. students annually participate in noncredit work overseas programs with a strong experiential emphasis. Whether the student is working, studying or performing a volunteer service, this looks good on the resume, it is life altering and the skills the student gathers cannot be learned in a classroom. The world is their classroom. The recommendation I have for my clients is to do one or all of the above. I cannot stress the value of being exposed to an overseas experience. The United States is a country of immigrants. It is so important to look beyond our borders so we do not forget this. We can learn from other cultures. So parents, if your child has the inclination, try to figure out how you can support this. You will watch in amazement. When your child returns from an overseas experience, they will be forever changed.
Study abroad programs cannot guarantee the absolute safety of participants or ensure that risk will not at times be greater than at home. The reason for this, they cannot monitor the daily personal decisions, choices, and activities of Most overseas study programs recognize their responsibility to do their utmost to provide a secure and safe environment in which your son or daughter can live and learn. Responsible campuses and programs consult regularly with colleagues around the country who are involved in the administration of study abroad programs; with resident program directors; with responsible officials of foreign host universities; with contacts in the U.S. Department of State and other agencies; and with other experts who are well informed on issues and events. For information on what parents can do to optimize safety during study abroad, visit the NAFSA web site at http://www.nafsa.org. With a little care and effort and a good deal of advance planning, it is almost always possible to identify study abroad programs that match a student’s learning style and academic goals at an affordable price. It is an amazing experience and no time in a persons life is this more appropriate. I encourage parents to do their homework and no to automatically say no, when your student discusses a Semester Abroad. A World Wide Web resource that parents can access directly is The Financial Aid Information Page. The University of Minnesota Online Study Abroad Directory has over 200 relevant entries. These two sources represent a good overview of aid sources and are a good starting point for more specialized searches.