SBM Culture Editor
Most people dream of being able to visit another country during their college years. Learning a new language, being part of a new culture and getting to explore different parts of the world are all combined in study abroad programs.
In recent years, the opportunity to study abroad has become more appealing to students as they work on their undergraduate degrees. The desire to travel doesn’t always line up with a student’s financial capabilities, but that’s where study abroad programs are able to fulfill this dream. Combining a normal semester with travel is a simple way to sum up the experience of studying abroad, though there are many additional advantages as well.
“I’ve learned to be a lot more flexible and willing to accept things as they come,” Eve Harbison-Ricciutti, senior communications and sociology and anthropology double major, said. “There’s only so much you can do to prepare before living abroad and only so many plans you can make before something inevitably comes up or goes wrong.”
A study compiled by the University of California Merced Study Abroad program showed that 89% of students who studied abroad were better able to adapt to ambiguous situations. This skill allowed many students to maintain flexibility when plans changed at the last minute.
At Messiah, Harbison-Ricciutti is one of over 600 students who studied abroad in the past year. Her experience is shared by 90% of Messiah students who have been able to participate in one of three study abroad programs: semester-long, J-Term and May-Term.
According to the FAQ study abroad page on Messiah’s website, Messiah “deeply values our students’ engagement with the world and believe it is essential for becoming a global citizen.” This belief has led Messiah to create nearly 40 semester-long, off-campus programs for its student body, with new additions being added as connections are made.
“After living in Rome, I can confirm that Italians know how to make delicious, seasonal, and fresh food and that they have impeccable style,” Harbison-Ricciutti said. “But I also learned that Italians tend to be curious people, who love to stare and observe others.”
The opportunity to live in a different country and interact with local people is considered to be one of the most beneficial learning experiences. A study on IES Abroad study abroad alumni conducted by the University of Maryland showed that 97% of students felt that they grew in maturity because of their experiences abroad.
Junior Allison Schillinger found that being abroad taught her to be more conscious of her finances and how to budget for the things she wanted to try.
“It’s tough because there are so many awesome things to do and places to go, but they all cost money,” Schillinger said. “At least with my program, there were excursions where we were responsible for paying for our own meals for the weekend, so when you went on these great adventures, you also had to think of the logistical and financial side of it. That’s not a super fun thing to have to do, but if you can be aware and proactive about what you’ll want to do and how much it will cost realistically, that can eliminate some financial stress.”
In addition to learning to be more responsible and open to other cultures, studying abroad is becoming an increasingly valuable experience for students before they enter the working world. International experiences like service, internships and practicum can be beneficial as more and more companies are looking for students who have experience dealing with international situations.
The UOC Mercad study found that 40% of American businesses were unable to expand their reach due to a lack of employee experience in international relations. The same study reported that 84% of study abroad students felt that being abroad helped them build skills that later became valuable in the working environment.
However, not everyone can afford to spend a semester in a different country, which is why Messiah has developed J-Term and May-Term study abroad programs. These short-term programs take place over three weeks and include an intensive study of local culture through lectures and readings. Offered in more than 40 countries, this option might be more appealing for students who are on a tighter budget or are unable to fit their normal academic requirements into a semester-long program.
It also eases the feelings of homesickness and adjusting to being away from family for an extended period of time.
“I assumed that during the first couple of weeks, I would miss either my family or boyfriend the most,” Harbinson-Ricciutti said. “To my surprise, the most difficult part of studying abroad was not being away from my sisters or doing long distance, but it was being away from my friends at Messiah.”
To combat this, Messiah makes sure to prepare students for culture shock before they even board the plane. In addition, the on-site staff and faculty involved in study abroad programs are available as resources to help make the transition easier.
Though the idea of leaving the country and leaving a familiar environment might be scary, the benefits outweigh the consequences in the end. The chance to explore, experience and grow is unlike any other.
“Just being welcomed into a home, in another country, and to live as a part of that little family for a while has impacted me,” Schillinger said. “There will always be a piece of me there with them.”
For more information about studying abroad, students can contact the Intercultural Office to set up an appointment or contact the Agape Center to look into shorter trips that take place during school breaks.
Featured image of London- courtesy of Joshua Lee.