Study Abroad Without the Semester Commitment
The benefits of spending a semester abroad are well-known: proficiency in a foreign language, independence, intercultural communication, and more. It is also easier than ever to study abroad during college, whether it be through one's own university programs or third-party providers. However, what is a student to do when they are unable to spend the traditional semester abroad?
During my time in college, I have heard numerous reasons why students cannot take a semester away from their school. The reasons range from academic requirements, to athletic team commitments, to simply being a "homebody," and are unable or unwilling to spend months away from their families and friends in a foreign country. All these are legitimate reasons, but should not hinder students from gaining international experience that is so beneficial to today's workforce.
So, what are the alternatives?
Summer/Winter Break: What's a better way to spend an academic break than studying in a foreign country? Many study abroad providers offer short-term programs during these breaks. One advantage is that students are able to take specialized classes that might not be offered during a normal semester abroad or can focus on sharpening their language skills. Additionally, studying abroad during a break also opens up new locations that one's college may not approve otherwise. For example, a friend of mine spent three weeks in Iceland this past summer taking a specialized class. Our college does not offer an approved semester program in Iceland, but by taking advantage of her summer break, she was able to study in a unique location.
Traveling Classes: Many universities offer classes with international trips that link to the course material. These trips may take place during spring break or at the beginning of winter and summer break. The classes are unique because they take the learning experience outside of the classroom. I was able to participate in such a trip. I spent my 2010 spring break traveling around Ireland in conjunction with a series of classes that focused on Irish politics and literature. My classmates and I were profoundly impacted by this trip as we visited numerous sites of historical significance. Most of us agreed that we were most moved by the Bloody Sunday walk we recreated in Derry, Northern Ireland. I will be attending the trip during March 2012 as a teaching assistant, and I cannot wait see the country come alive for the next group of students.
Volunteer Abroad: Short-term volunteer projects can be expensive and difficult to coordinate. However, many universities offer alternative spring break programs. These trips are a wonderful way to give back and provide a way to travel with fellow college students. Additionally, universities are not only providing trips domestically. There are opportunities for international service trips as well. While these trips do not focus on learning in the traditional academic sense, one is still able to learn many of the values that traditional study abroad students pick up such as self-reliance, language skills, and determination. Since these trips are usually paid for by fundraising, this may be the least expensive of the alternatives.
- Amizade offers a service learning program in Jamaica during spring break
- IPSL offers a service learning program in Calcutta, India every January Term
- Global Service Corps offers integrated service learning programs in Thailand
Even if life commitments get in the way of a traditional semester abroad, that does not mean it is the end of the study abroad dreams! Through a bit of determination and research, students can find the right alternative program for them and still gain the skills and life-changing experience that they crave.