To many, simply moving away to attend a four-year university a few hours away from home is a hard step. But imagine if the university was more than two or three hours away—it’s in a different country, surrounded by a different culture thousands of miles from where you call home.
This thought, while scary to many, is what drives the study abroad program at Michigan State University, and fuels the education of nearly 3,000 study abroad students.
And the trend of studying abroad is growing.
According to the Institute of International Education Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, 270,604 U.S. students studied abroad for credit during the academic year 2009/10, an increase of 4 percent from the previous year.
MSU offers study abroad programs in over 60 countries and all seven continents. More than 300 academic programs are available in majors such as education, health, physical sciences and business.
“Our study abroad program is one of the biggest in the country,” said Cheryl Benner, communications manager at the office of study abroad. “Popularity of each individual academic program varies, but some of the popular destinations include Australia, Ireland, and Italy because they are mostly English speaking.”
Getting involved in the study abroad program is easy and can be started at any time. Many students utilize the Freshman Seminar Abroad program in order to get a short study abroad experience before starting their freshman year.
According to the office of study abroad’s website, the FSA is intended to help with the college transition, and includes several days of on-campus, pre departure orientation, followed by a two week group travel abroad. Over 50 percent of FSA participants will study abroad again.
“I went on a two week Freshman Seminar to New Zealand and earned two credits in ethics,” said MSU junior Michael Keller. “After that trip, I was hooked.”
Keller has been on three study abroad trips since starting his education at MSU—his trip to New Zealand, plus trips to Ecuador and Turkey. Despite common speculation, being fluent in the language of the country you are visiting is not often a requirement, and even with the language barrier, most students still learn a vast amount about culture and communication.
“I loved being able to learn more about the world and how to communicate,” Keller said. “I recommend study abroad to everyone.”
Other Study Abroad programs besides FSA include co-sponsored programs, which involve the student enrolling at a host institution, and faculty-led programs in which an MSU program leader coordinates all academic and administrative arrangements. Co-sponsored trips are recommended for those who have a high level of independence and want a longer abroad experience since they are often semester or year-long trips. Faculty-led programs are better suited for those wanting more guidance, and a shorter trip—some trips only lasting a few weeks in duration.
Many students rule themselves out as possible study abroad candidates because of financial reasons, but about 72 percent of study abroad participants receive financial assistance. There are several different ways to finance a trip, including financial aid, which makes study abroad affordable for almost any MSU student.
“Most students don?t know that they can use their financial aid for a study abroad program,” Benner said. “Along with that financial aid, there are several different scholarships offered and opportunities for internships while abroad, all of which can be found on the study abroad website.”
Costs for each trip and program vary, but often times study abroad trips end up costing less than living on campus. Study abroad advisors recommend comparing costs of living from MSU to whatever the desired location is before ruling it out as unaffordable, but plan on a few primary expenses. Some of these expenses include a $100 application fee, a $200 acceptance fee, passport/visa costs, and immunizations costs.
“Study abroad offers so many educational benefits,” Benner said. “Every student will come back with a different skill set and a sense of confidence. I have never had a student regret their decision to study abroad.”
To learn more about the study abroad program at MSU, or to start the application process, more information can be found on their website, and in room 109 in the International Center.