U of A Sets Record for Study Abroad TripsBy esljoblinks I Africa, Australia / Oceania, East Asia, Europe, Middle East, North America, South America, Teaching - Other I 0 comment
When Antonio Guerrero went to India last year as part of the Global India Study Abroad Program, offered by the College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas, he saw something he won’t forget.
It was a child, probably no more than 5 years old. On her back, she carried her an even younger girl, probably her sister, as she rummaged through a garbage heap, searching for scraps of food.
“It was very humbling,” Guerrero said. “I just hope that my experience helps people see how blessed we are here and how thankful we should be.”
From Asia to Africa and Europe to South America, more students like Guerrero are gaining an understanding of life outside the United States through the university’s office of study abroad and international exchange. This year, a record number of undergraduate students at the state’s flagship university will go overseas to pursue their studies or participate in service-learning projects.
“Engaging with the rest of the world is now fundamental to quality higher education,” said Todd Shields, dean of the Graduate School and International Education. “The record number of our students participating in study abroad programs displays their thirst for seeking a deeper knowledge of other cultures. It also testifies to the commitment the university has toward serving not only our state and country, but the world.”
DeDe Long, director of the office, said at least 665 students will go to at least 44 countries this year, a number that includes the students who participated in the fall and spring semesters and the projected number of students taking trips this summer. She is still waiting on confirmation from more students, but that is an increase of 100 enrolling for summer programs over the previous year, Long said.
This spring, nearly 18 percent of full-time, degree-seeking graduating seniors will have gone on at least one study abroad trip and many have taken two or more, said Long, who has been director of study abroad at the U of A since 1994. The university’s goal is to raise that percentage to 20 percent by 2015 and 25 percent by 2021.
She attributes the increase in study abroad interest to a few factors, including the improving U.S. economy and the U of A’s expanding student body with record-breaking freshman classes of at least 4,400 in the last two years. The university has grown by 5,600 students since the fall of 2009.
“If you have that many more freshmen entering campus you have that many more presented to us who want to go abroad,” Long said.
She also cites an elevated interest among students and their families in service learning, whereby students put their academics to use by participating in hands-on projects, predominantly in developing countries.
“Service learning has become extremely popular in the last several years,” she said. “There does seem to be in recent college graduates and younger professionals an inherent sense that they should be contributing to both the local and global community. In the past, they may not have been given credit for their volunteerism because it was considered part of their overseas experience. Now, the university developing partnerships with organizations across the globe and creating more programs that offer credit toward a student’s degree.”
Indeed, every undergraduate in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the U of A must perform an internship as part of their graduation requirements. Many choose to intern when they go abroad, Long said.
There are at least 25 faculty-led groups each summer. Amy Farmer, director of the office of global engagement and a professor of economics in the Sam M. Walton College of Business, directs the popular community development study abroad program in Belize. The program, now in its seventh year, is the largest summer program on campus.
About 60 students this summer, led by faculty project leaders, have been preparing tasks that will improve the quality of life in the small town of Dangriga, on the Caribbean coast. The projects this summer will involve areas that include business, engineering, literacy, public health and ecology.
The locals were skeptical when the program began, Farmer said. They thought the group would never come back after the first year. But the community now welcomes the U of A students because they see that it is a partnership for providing services, she said.
“The students are not observers or tourists,” Farmer said. “They are working in the community. There are powerful experiences the students won’t get sitting in a classroom. There’s a desire to find meaning to their studies and this program does that.”
Honors students are especially encouraged to study abroad. The Honors College at the U of A has seen a 221 percent increase in study abroad grant applications since 2009.
Additionally, each year the university awards up to 90 Honors College Fellowships for incoming freshmen that provide from $50,000 to $70,000 over four years to cover the costs of tuition, books, room and board, and registration. All Honors College students are eligible to compete for Honors College research and study abroad grants; the Honors College awards $500,000 to $1 million in research and study-abroad grants each year.