Cobblestone streets. Strong coffee in tiny cups. New friends. Learning intricacies of a language and diverse ways of life. Accepting both the beauty and challenges of a culture. Adopting a country as a second home. These are some of my fondest memories from studying abroad. International Education Week is the perfect time to reflect on them and the future of international study.
I had the good fortune to spend time abroad in high school, college and graduate school, and those experiences guided me on the path to my career. My story is not unlike that of many in the field of international education. It’s possible many of us have similar backgrounds: I did not come from a wealthy family. I attended state universities. I had multiple part time jobs, student loans, and applied for numerous scholarships and grants throughout my education.
I was drawn to languages and cultures and sought out international experiences and knowledge. I became a student of the world and learned from my adventures regardless of where on the planet they took place. This drive to learn and explore is a natural part of who I am and what I aim to inspire in students. A common commitment in our field is to break down obstacles that students face and to dispel the myth that study abroad is unattainable. On the contrary, international experiences are available and accessible to all students – regardless of age, major, background or economic means – and provide invaluable benefits and skills to bolster students and their futures.
International Education Week 2020
This year during IEW we face an obstacle unlike any before, requiring us all to be patient and to adapt. The global pandemic derailed the plans of hundreds of thousands of U.S. students and turned the field of study abroad on its head. Educational travel is restricted, and virtual/online options have proliferated in an attempt to bring the world to students. USAC created our innovative Global Perspectives program offering online courses and virtual internships, further supporting students and university partners, USAC unveiled virtual program advising, info sessions, health/safety webinars, orientations, career and culture workshops and panels. As an organization and field, we are adopting innovative ways to do the work we love, communicating and collaborating with students and universities.
In recent years, before COVID-19, there has been a steady increase in the number of U.S. students who study abroad – up to over 340,000 in 2017-18 (NAFSA). Along with courses in business, language and social sciences, students are increasingly drawn to STEM and health courses (like USAC’s courses in environmental science, nutrition, and mindfulness, to name a few). More often now students also seek tangible professional skills while abroad. In USAC’s 50+ program sites in 27 countries, students enjoy relevant courses like Spanish for Health Professions, Business French, Teaching German (or Spanish) as a Foreign Language, Chinese for Business Professionals, Intercultural Communication, Entrepreneurship, Photojournalism, and many more. Combining courses with USAC internships (either in person or virtually) is an ideal way to build skills and a professional network. For example, recent students have excelled in internships in engineering, digital marketing, event planning, translation and health communication.
Even as enrollment inches up, far too few students participate in international programs. At current rates, “90% of college graduates are entering the US workforce missing global skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to position them for success in the global economy.” The NAFSA/EMSI report, ‘Developing a Globally Competitive Workforce Through Study Abroad: The Value of Study Abroad Skills in the U.S. Job Market,’ found that more than 31 million job openings in 2019 required soft and global skills that a student acquires while studying abroad. On USAC programs, students gain valuable professional and personal skills which employers seek – including adaptability, problem solving, and empathy.
Looking Ahead: 2021 and Beyond
We know this has been an unsettling time for students whose study abroad plans have been put on hold. My message to you is: don’t give up. You will make it to your dream destination. Keep the faith, keep moving forward every day, and keep your eye on your goal.
So, what can you do in the meantime?
- Use this time wisely to prepare, research, and plan ahead.
- Get your passport as soon as possible, so you’re ready to go!
- Research your program options: www.usac.edu for in-person programs as well as USAC Global Perspectives options for online courses and virtual international internships
- Start a study abroad savings account. On a regular basis, put aside any amount you can. Every little bit counts and adds up.
- Scholarships, scholarships, scholarships: Apply.
- Chat with your academic advisor, financial aid office, study abroad advisor, USAC advisor. (Check out our USAC virtual advising and info sessions!)
- Connect with USAC alumni, professors, friends/family who been overseas. (If you’re an alum and want to give back, contact us to chat with prospective students and check out our ‘Students Beyond Borders’ fundraiser.)
- Do you have a location or language in mind? Immerse yourself as much as you can from home! Read online news/travel advice, watch movies/videos, listen to local music, connect with USAC contacts abroad on social media or via professional/academic resources. (You can find USAC on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn @studyabroadusac.)
- Check out international clubs, organizations, classes and events on campus and in your community. Seek out international students and faculty for advice or to chat about the place you’re interested in and/or the language you want to practice.
- Above all, keep the study abroad dream alive. Envision yourself in your desired place. Make a plan. Think about what you’d like to accomplish… and contact USAC so we can help you achieve those exciting goals!
For more international education inspiration, check out these student stories and resources.
To start planning your study abroad journey, visit the USAC website.