Study abroad better organized, more affordable

Would you enjoy swimming on the beaches in the Mediterranean and strolling through the halls of the ancient university of Barcelona?

Does a summer jaunt through the streets of Guanajuato, Mexico and a chance to improve your Spanish on a daily basis sound appealing?

Is cost the only reason you aren’t considering a study abroad?

Study abroad now has become more affordable and less of a hassle for UTD students thanks to a variety of new programs and scholarships available in international education.

How to get involved

This past fall, UTD established the Office of International Education (OIE) to service the growing number of UTD students who are spending time abroad.

“The establishment of this new office demonstrates the university’s commitment both to assist our students who are now or will soon be studying overseas and to promote the growth of the study-abroad and international educational experiences at UTD,” said Spreda, who was named OIE director in early October.

From helping with the detailed process of enrolling in a foreign institution, to providing academic advising for students who spend time abroad and transferring course credit to UTD, OIE also aids students in the hunt for scholarship money to help defray costs.

But Spreda said not enough students know that study abroad could be an option for them and has far-reaching plans to change that.

Spreda said she wants to make more students aware of the opportunities of international study, whether it be for a few weeks or an entire semester.

An independent organization, International Education for Students (IES) has also set up a program on campus and will assist Spreda’s office in placing students in universities across the world.

Is it affordable?

IES region five representative Julie Trimpe visited UTD Oct. 20 and spoke to a group of students about opportunities in 14 different countries that span all majors and curricula.

Trimpe said the cost of the IES program was dependent on the location of study but likely would be more than in-state tuition at UTD. However, Pell, Stafford and federal grants are available for all areas of study, she said, adding that the grants covered anything and everything from air fare to foreign tuition to room and board. In addition UTD has made money available for students.

Spreda said many students think they cannot afford the price tag of an international experience, but that is not necessarily the case. Financial resources are available to help defray the costs including the International Education Fund Scholarship from UTD, she said. The scholarship is funded by a $1 per person fee levied on students.

According to the criteria the scholarship is open to both graduate and undergraduate students who maintain a GPA above 3.0 and typical pay outs range from $100-$2,000 Spreda said.

In addition, UTD also awards merit scholarships that range from $1,500-$2,000.

Is everyone doing it?

According to OIE, the number of UTD students studying abroad is relatively small: 79 in the spring semester of 2003. However, this figure is up 46 percent from the past year and 65 percent from two years ago. The largest number of those students (35) studied in Italy, while other nations frequented included Mexico (20) and France and England (10). The remainder attended classes in other countries in Europe, the Caribbean, Africa and Central America, as well as in Russia and Canada.

Spreda believes the OIE will help these numbers skyrocket in the next two years.

The OIE will work hand-in-hand with International Student Services, which coordinates programs for foreign students studying at the university and help develop exchanges with foreign universities.

According to assistant director of the McDermott Scholars program Pernilla Johansson, UTD has an exchange set up with different foreign universities to trade students and decrease the paperwork hassle.

However a national trend sees exchanges becoming more and more difficult.

According to a July 29, 2003 article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “U.S. visa rules deter students from abroad,” students coming into the United States for study abroad dropped 33 percent from 2001 to 2002 due to much tighter visa regulations after 9-11.

The article further noted that “the full impact may be even greater,” citing that foreign students often have to pay full out-of-state tuition and help offset scholarship costs for American students.

The article went on to surmise that “any decline could be costly for U.S. colleges.”

Is it important?

Spreda believes that now more than ever students need to be culturally aware.

“Sept. 11 really served to show students that we aren’t isolated in the world,” Spreda said. “More and more students are interested in studying languages and cultures of other nations.”

Kelsey Condra, a junior literature major, studied abroad this past semester in Orleans, France. She echoed Spreda’s sentiments:

“The study abroad experience is invaluable,” she said. “There are some things you can’t learn in the classroom – like how to communicate with a different culture, how to understand the mentality of another nation and how to board the tram with a sack of groceries in one arm and a baguette under the other.”

The Eugene McDermott scholarship program, a $26 million endowment that attracts 16-20 students to campus each year, puts high value on study abroad. In recruiting the last three classes of McDermott scholars, program director Charlie Leonard emphasized the importance of study abroad toward becoming well-rounded men and women.

“Travel opportunities extend across the academic career, including group travel associated with curricular and extra-curricular enrichment as well as individual travel,” Leonard said. “All Scholars will have an international travel experience during their academic career, with a focus on understanding our culture within the larger context of the global society.”

Spreda wants to make this a reality for any student at UTD.

“Study abroad is a wonderful experience that broadens students’ horizons and enhances their learning,” said Spreda. “It provides the added benefit of allowing people from different cultures to get to know each other, which promotes understanding and helps lay the groundwork for peace.”

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