Not Your Mom’s Study Abroad Experience

There is no doubt college students felt the impact of the recent recession. When money is short, student study abroad programs have historically struggled. But the Institute of International Education says last year colleges saw a 55% increase in study abroad participation, as the recession began to taper off

North Central College senior Caroline Hirsch spent the fall term perfecting her Chinese in Beijing.

“It’s amazing how much you improve in four months,” said Hirsch. “I couldn’t have a 5 minute conversation with my Chinese professor before I left, and now I could probably sit and chat with her for like an hour.”

North Central College students can choose from 50 international study locations. Local study abroad program directors say the number of students traveling to developing countries is up because the cost of living is lower. But many believe the benefits of the experience are priceless.

“They are finding themselves more independent and more mature, more self-reliable, and they feel like they are more savvy travelers,” said Kimberly Larsson, Assistant to the Director of International Programs at North Central College. “They respect cultural differences and cultural sensitivity.”

College officials encourage study abroad as a way to prepare for a career in a world demanding global connectivity.

“Having meals with people of that nation, doing business with people of that nation, it’s completely different than doing that with people in the United States,” said Marc Davidson, Education Abroad Coordinator at Benedictine University.

“The world is getting smaller and employees, even small businesses, are sending out their goods across borders,” said Marlene Starzyk, Assistant Director of Career Development at North Central College.

These days study abroad isn’t just available to college students. Many high schools offer travel experiences as a part of their language programs, and Neuqua Valley’s French students can choose to participate in an exchange program.

“We learn not for school but for life,” said Yvonne Fawell, Department Chairman of World Languages at Neuqua Valley High School. “So we recognize the big world out there and high school is trying to capture that in some way.”

“I learned that French culture is very similar to American culture,” said Caroline Dusenberry, a senior at Neuqua. “All teenagers kind of like to do the same thing, we all like to hang out with our friends and all that. It just kind of showed me how everybody is really similar, even if you don’t speak the same language.”

Neuqua students spent two weeks in France last May, and the French students came to Naperville in the fall. The Neuqua students say the experience encouraged them to pursue study abroad in college.

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