When should I study abroad?

Kendra Davis

The 2009 results are in, and the Institute for International Education has ranked Villanova University fifth in the nation among all master’s universities for total study abroad participation. For semester study abroad, excluding summer programs, Villanova ranks 10th in the nation. In terms of participation rate, which is the number of students electing to study abroad as a portion of the total student body, the University was in the top 10th percentile. Therefore, it is safe to say that the Office of International Studies has done a more than adequate job in setting Villanova students up with ideal study abroad opportunities. Yet the question remains: which semester provides a student with the better experience?

Though, in the past, the spring semester had always been the more popular option among Villanova students studying abroad, for the second year in a row the fall semester is the more dominant choice, according to Lance Kenney, director of international studies.

“Mainly I think people want to be on campus for the [end of the] basketball season,” Kenney says.

While 224 students are abroad this semester as opposed to the 181 who will depart come January, both times of year have pros and cons.

“Professionally, I always recommend studying abroad when the host university is starting their classes – the beginning of their academic year,” Kenney says. “For students going north of the equator, the fall semester is better; for south of the equator, spring is best. It’s just a matter of trying to get our students there with everyone else.”

The student’s major is also a big deciding factor when it comes to choosing a travel time. Engineering and nursing students, for example, have demanding requirements which leave less flexibility in their schedules than in that of, say, a student with a liberal arts major.

“The major never keeps a student from studying abroad,” Kenney says. “It’s just that sometimes the requirements for the major lend themselves to one semester.”

That was exactly the case for sophomore Andrew Sayre, a civil engineer who will be studying at the University of Canterbury in Auckland, New Zealand, next semester.

“I chose spring because it worked better with my schedule as an engineer,” Sayre says. “Also, I’ll be there for New Zealand’s fall semester and they don’t like people coming in for their spring semester. It worked out so when I come back next fall, I’ll be able to pick right up with my same schedule.”

In his opinion, the only things he will be missing out on are the basketball season and NovaFest, but they are worth the “totally different and way more relaxed lifestyle” of New Zealand.

While the OIS is seeing an increasing number of students going abroad their sophomore year, like Sayre, junior year is still the most preferred time of travel.

“It’s more tradition than anything else,” Kenney says.

Senior biology major Jennifer Bowe chose to go abroad fall of her junior year because it worked best with her schedule, but, in retrospect, she thinks going in the spring would have eased the transition after coming back from a Wildlife Ecology and Conservation program in Tanzania.

“I was so immersed within the [Tanzanian] culture that I adjusted quickly,” says Bowe. “The reverse culture shock was even worse than adjustment to life in Tanzania, and I felt disconnected from people I knew at school. I actually think readjustment might be a little easier for people who study abroad spring semester and return in the fall. Of course, they have still missed a semester, but they have the long summer break to recuperate as opposed to the relatively short winter break.”

Bowe also notes that students who choose the spring semester get the oppotunity to start the new semester in September along with everyone else.

“When I returned in the spring it felt like a new school year for me because I was living in a different part of campus and I was a junior, but everyone else was already situated, basically picking up right where they left off from the fall semester,” Bowe says.

While both Sayre and Bowe based their decisions on academic demands, Kenney explains how many students pick a semester based on national sporting events, such as FIFA, UEFA and the Olympics, which may be happening – though the OIS does not encourage this reasoning.

“It’s a cultural event that is really unparalleled in the United States,” Kenney says. “It’s very rare in this country to be passionate about a sport on the international level. We don’t have cricket or rugby.”

No matter the semester, academic year or duration of travel, studying internationally is a life-changing experience.

“I encourage every Villanova student to study abroad,” Bowe says. “Even if you love Villanova and can’t bear the thought of being away from friends, when else will you have the opportunity to live in and experience the culture of a foreign country? Studying abroad not only helps you gain insight into the world beyond Villanova, but you can learn a lot about yourself as well.”