Students explore the world by studying abroad

Cheryl McEvoy

The latest trend at Villanova is not a pair of jeans or new electronics. It can’t be found in a store or on a Web site. The emerging fad is studying abroad, and more Villanovans are leaving on jet planes each year to experience the world beyond Lancaster Avenue.”We can send people any place in the world, except the places the government says it’s not safe to go,” says Lance Kenney, director of the Office of International Studies.Since opportunities and programs abound, student interest in international studies is flourishing. The number of Villanovans studying abroad has doubled in only five years – now approximately 800 students participate in international studies programs each year. Villanova ranks fourth among masters-level universities for study abroad enrollment, as determined by the Institute of International Education.Much of the study abroad trend can be attributed to the Office of International Studies, which provides several flexible options to facilitate enrollment in study abroad programs. “Students have more trouble fitting it in but realize going international is important,” Kenney says. Villanovans who have strict course requirements during the school year or busy schedules due to extracurricular activities or athletics have the opportunity to study abroad over the summer. Students who have more flexible schedules and strong interest in going overseas can enroll for a full semester. In addition to accommodating schedules, the Office of International Studies also provides programs to match academic interests, as study abroad opportunities are no longer limited to liberal arts majors. “We work with all majors,” Kenney says. “This semester we have more business students studying abroad than arts students.”Students who show interest in studying abroad are encouraged to make an appointment with the Office of International Studies to discuss program options. The key to a successful overseas experience, Kenney says, is to select a program based on what the student wants to do, not where the student wants to go. “Our unofficial motto is ‘We’re not a travel agency,'” Kenney says, explaining that students need to have academic and cultural interests in studying abroad so they don’t think of the experience as a vacation.The Office of International Studies follows each student through the application process. At Villanova, students planning to study abroad must maintain at least a 2.75 GPA, be in good disciplinary standing and have a declared major. Completed applications must be submitted before the midterm break of the preceding semester for fall and spring programs. Any financial assistance a student receives at Villanova, including grants and scholarships, can be transferred to international programs to defer the cost. Study abroad scholarships are also available.The Office of International Studies offers several resources to accepted students, including online pre-departure orientation, group information sessions and welcome-back receptions with photo contests. When students are abroad, the office remains a support center where students can direct any questions or problems. “We don’t necessarily initiate dialogue with students, but it’s always there,” Kenney says.Once students are abroad, they quickly discover the joys – and challenges – of participating in the cultural immersion trend.”You can’t possibly be prepared for what you’re going to see,” says junior political science major Marissa Miraval, who enrolled in an academic and service learning program in Buenos Aires last semester. The program, offered by the Council on International Educational Exchange, was not Villanova-run, but Miraval says the University has a well-established relationship with the program. Miraval, a Spanish minor, says she exercised her language skills while living in an apartment with a host family. Through the program, she had the freedom to enroll in courses at several schools. She took classes such as Argentinean Politics and Culture and Latin American Politics and volunteered at a human rights firm.”[Service learning] fit really well with Villanova.” Miraval says, adding that her immersion in the culture helped her see the effects of human rights violations in Argentina.In addition to attending classes and volunteering, Miraval found time to explore and enjoy the city.”Buenos Aires is a huge cultural center,” Miraval says. “The nightlife was huge there. It didn’t start until 2 a.m.”Miraval frequented the theater and ballet and dined at ethnic restaurants, which added to her cultural experience. She also traveled to neighboring villages and backpacked through Patagonia. The most common way to spend free time, however, was relaxing at cafes, she says. But cultural immersion is not just about doing what the natives do, according to Miraval; it also involves adjusting to a different sense of time.”There’s an implied 20-minute delay to everything there,” Miraval says. “Yes, they’re going to work, but they’re not knocking people down like we do.”Miraval says her study abroad experience taught her to be more patient and relaxed, and she adds that students studying overseas often do not anticipate the reverse culture shock of returning to America.”I actually found coming back more difficult,” she says.For Villanovans planning to study abroad, Miraval says that students should make the most of the experience and participate in the culture right away.”Yes, it’s a difficult adjustment period in the beginning, but get out and do as much as you can before you run out of time,” she says.While Miraval selected a Spanish-intensive program, junior honors and sociology major Erin Grewe opted for an English-speaking program in Europe. Grewe is currently studying at St. Catharine’s College at Oxford University.”I wanted to study abroad because it seemed like one of the only times I would truly get to experience life in another country and to really interact with people of another culture,” Grewe said in an e-mail. “I picked Oxford because it was Oxford, I guess; part of it was definitely the name.”Grewe is enrolled in sociology and history courses. Her coursework allows enough time to travel, but she prefers to stay in the area and experience the life of a typical British student.”I don’t really travel on the weekends that much because I like to be around the college; it makes you feel as though this is really your school if you can go to the clubs and college events on weekends,” she says. “We have a six-week spring break, though, and I’m traveling all over Europe during that time.”Fifty Americans from different universities are enrolled in the same program as Grewe. The students live in residence halls on campus, and though they have American roommates, the halls also house British students.”I was really excited to meet new people, both Americans and British kids,” she says but adds that she was hesitant to leave her family and friends behind.Grewe says the biggest difference she notices between England and the United States is the exchange rate, which doubles the price of anything she buys. Like Miraval, Grewe also noticed a more relaxed atmosphere abroad.”I think one of the hardest parts about coming back to the U.S. will be the way Americans always seem rushed,” she says. “The British kids just seem to go with the flow, and they aren’t in a hurry.”Grewe advises study abroad students to “make as many friends as you can” to help the adjustment.”It also helps to have Skype or a cheap calling plan to the U.S. so you can hear your friends’ and family’s voices, since e-mail just isn’t the same,” she says. She adds that talking to people who had been in the program also calmed her pre-departure jitters.The Office of International Studies emphasizes that no matter what program a student selects, studying abroad can be a valuable learning experience.”Students come back with more leadership abilities.” Kenney says, adding that international programs also raise awareness about global issues, help many students learn a new language and empower Villanovans to improve perceptions of Americans. “It’s a chance for us to learn more about countries,” he says, “but also gives us a chance to represent ourselves,” which is a trend Kenney hopes will continue to take flight.