Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Study abroad helps students compete globally

A recent emphasis on study abroad by The University of Alabama and employers suggests the experience may be more valuable than previously acknowledged – an investment in a student’s future as opposed to just an interesting way to earn academic credit.

As the economy has evolved, professors and staff at the University have focused on developing competitive students for the international market. Consequently, representatives at the Career Center, Capstone International Center and Crossroads Community Center work together to advise and prepare students to study abroad in order to enhance their skills.

“Employers and graduate schools don’t just want to see the degree,” said Beverly Hawk, a professor in the international honors program and the director of the Crossroads Community Center, which assists international students and provides intercultural education. “They know when you graduate you have overcome many obstacles.”

“If you can talk about your experience in an applicable way, then it will be more beneficial to you,” Career Center advisor Amber Bara said. “Use examples from your trip to show how it relates to something you may face in your career.”

In some instances, students may have the best resume and internships, along with a study abroad experience, but will get turned down for jobs, Bara said. Simply going on the trip is only half the work. She said students must know how to communicate what they learned to make their trip worthwhile.

A student should also consider what employers value, such as adaptable, self-reliant people who appreciate different viewpoints, Hawk said. A study abroad experience prepares a student personally and professionally. The “cultural literacy” that a student gains from study abroad will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

“We have assumptions before we go abroad,” she said. “After I went, it made me appreciate the common humanity that we share.”

While some students may find that study abroad helps them develop into a more open-minded person, others may find adjusting to another culture more difficult, Hawk said. Students who struggle with admitting when they are incorrect may need to “work on their heart before they go,” she said.

“You have to accept that you may be awkward, clumsy and fall on your face sometimes. It’s like a child who just learns to walk,” Hawk said.

Once a student accepts the emotional obstacles he or she may face, the student can better learn to understand a culture, Capstone International Programs coordinator Susan Gorin said. Study abroad may make a student a better global citizen and complete the circle that is the college experience.

Studying abroad requires much more than emotional stability, however. Every investment comes with a price, and study abroad is no exception. Often, students think that study abroad is not affordable, Gorin said. However, the office encourages students to start a year in advance in planning their trip so that the student does not miss scholarship deadlines.

“We give more scholarships around $200 so that a lot of students get a little money,” she said.

National scholarships are alternatives to UA scholarships. The University has had students receive national scholarships, which tend to cover the entire trip, Gorin said.

“UA just isn’t a good resource for money at all,” Karly Weigel, a public relations and political science major, said. “If I were doing it again, I would definitely look for national scholarships.”

Weigel, who studied in China, received only $200 from the University in scholarships. Another financial burden may be how soon a student has to commit and make a down payment, Weigel said.

In the same way, time is an important factor to consider before studying abroad. The time spent abroad may not always be as beneficial as opportunities at home, Bara said.

According to the State of Hiring 2011-2012 report done by Michigan State University, internships are of greater importance to recruiters than study abroad. Leadership and international internships were also ranked higher than study abroad by the study. Therefore, if a student has a limited amount of time or money and must choose between studying abroad and interning, an internship may be the better choice, Bara said.

“This summer, I’m interning with a firm that will prepare me for a future in law,” Brittany Day, a political science major with a pre-law focus, said. “Internships are more important in making contacts, which will ultimately help me get the job I want.”

Day, who works to pay for college and other expenses, also said she could not take time off to study abroad.

“I don’t have the time and money to spend leisurely,” she said.

Considering all aspects of a study abroad experience, as well as talking with program advisors and students who have gone, may be the best approach for students to determine what is best for them, Gorin said. Students may look at their finances, time and career goals to determine if study abroad is a wise investment.

However, a student who does go abroad will certainly carry the experience with him or her forever, Hawk said.

“Our culture is our inheritance,” she said. “Culture is the only way we really learn about a person.”


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