Studying Abroad Isn’t Just for Foreign Language Majors!
Studying abroad, regardless of your major, is a great way to complete your educational experience, meet people from new cultures, or even top off a resume. Study abroad experiences are interdisciplinary and fun! Here is my experience, and some ways in which I was able to integrate many studies into my overseas experiences.
A Student’s Experience Abroad
My name is Ivy Renfro, and I graduated a double major in German Studies and History. My final project for my German Studies major was an interdisciplinary Political Science and German Studies Project. It began in a political science class here at UALR entitled “Citizen Politics” which introduced me to the ‘Cleavages’ model of understanding political science. With a growing interest in the Austrian political party system and the Cleavage model, I consulted a German professor , who encouraged further research into the subject, and recommended some classes to take if I went abroad. Thanks to a Gilman scholarship and Donaghey Scholars Program funding, I was able to spend a semester in Graz, Austria and took an Austrian history course at Karl-Franzens University there. For an extra-credit report, I wrote a brief history of the Austrian socialist party. Upon returning to UALR, I was able to combine this report with the information from the political science course taken earlier, expand it into a paper and voila- an interdisciplinary research project was born.
But a university experience abroad isn’t all about research. I have traveled to Graz, Austria twice, and to Pingtung Taiwan once. As a History major, I went abroad seeking multicultural perspective and historical monuments. As a German Studies major, I went abroad to enhance my ability to speak German. How could these goals be accomplished? The first solution that came to mind was to volunteer. In both countries I tutored English as a Second Language. Because of this volunteer work, I was able to learn much more about culture and history than I ever could in a class room. I learned about the personal history of individuals and families, about their holiday traditions, about their travels and experiences in other parts of the world, about their perspectives on world history and, last but not least, about my own personal limitations. Time spent abroad reinforces an individual’s ability to function on his or her own terms, as each person is given an opportunity to reinvent themselves. One also learns about how they fit into a global context, and learns that they too are a part of the integral web of cultures.
I went overseas with a goal of both tutoring English and completing a research project based on German and Political Science. Thanks to the assistance of UALR, as well as the TUSA and Gilman Scholarship programs, I was able to complete my goals. I pushed for my goals to guide my experience, and UALR’s staff and professors were there to support me every step of the way. I will be leaving for the Peace Corps in spring 2010, and will most likely be going to West Africa. Thanks to study and volunteer work abroad and my interdisciplinary program of study at UALR, I feel very well prepared to meet whatever challenges lie ahead.
Here are ways you can integrate a study abroad experience into any major:
- Ask questions.
- Get to know your professors.
- Look at programs available to other universities.
- Set up an independent study.
- Go for work, not study.
- Volunteer abroad.
- Check out courses taught in English or courses for European Union students (if interested in European travel).
- Don’t think you can afford it?
Your first stop if you are interested in study abroad should be the UALR Programs Abroad office or website. Brochures and websites, however, don’t list every option available to students. There simply isn’t enough room! Visit the UALR study abroad coordinator and see what they have to offer in terms of study abroad experiences. Some of them may even have scholarships attached to them!
Many professors at UALR know much more information about study abroad experiences than are listed on any website. Ask your favorite professor if he or she went abroad, and how he or she integrated it into their undergraduate experience. Many professors at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock have foreign roots or have been abroad. See if there are programs in their home country or if programs still exist where they went. Odds are, regardless of your major, you can find a program through a professor that suits you.
Students are not limited to countries which speak languages offered at UALR- your options are virtually unlimited! Heard about a friend who attends another university, and went to Ghana? Odds are, you can do the same. A multitude of programs are available to UALR students in a wide variety of languages. You are not limited to a direct exchange!
Before you go abroad, discuss with someone in your department the possibility of setting up an independent study course to take when you return. For example, if you know you will be taking a foreign policy class abroad, and you are interested in doing research based on the content of that class, do the research in the independent study course that you set up before you left. You may also be eligible for a S.U.R.F. grant if you do so.
Want to take some time off from studying? Try getting a foreign-based internship for a semester. Foreign-based internships encompass a great range of work, from restaurant management to agriculture to diplomacy. Internships are available globally in English, German, French, Spanish, and other languages. Internships are too numerous to list. If you speak a foreign language already, get on the mailing list for the club of that language. Students and professors alike send out emails to club members on the mailing list regularly with updates on new internships available. Just for some ideas, check out the UALR Cooperative Education website, or the Culture Diversity Success website.
Volunteering abroad can be done independent of any academic or work setting, or in combination with work or school. Service learning is an up-and-coming element of a university education; find volunteer positions abroad and utilize them to expand your academic breadth. One easy way to volunteer abroad is in conjunct with an already existing exchange program. Travel to Spain, Austria, Mexico, or any of the schools that UALR currently has an exchange with, and, upon arrival, tutor English as a Second Language on a volunteer basis. There will likely be a professor, child, or fellow student interested in bettering his or her English skills.
Other ways are to go abroad with the specific intent of volunteering for a semester. This volunteer work can be utilized to create a service project, serve as the foundation for a research project, or stand alone as an addendum to a well-rounded resume. One group that assists with placing students in volunteer positions is the Foundation for Sustainable Development, which hosts global internships, volunteer terms, and various University-related programs. Their website is available at http://www.fsdinternational.org/.
Many universities abroad offer some courses in English, so even if you only speak English, there will be likely be some courses you could take. Check into courses in English at universities you are considering. It is also viable to take an intro level foreign language course and courses in English at the same time while you are abroad.
If you are interested in European travel, many universities also offer courses designed for European Union students. Many of these courses are taught in either English or a version of the native language designed for foreigners. These courses are available in a variety of topics, ranging from American studies to Warfare, depending on the offerings of each university. These courses could easily be integrated into a course of study, pending university approval.
You can! Tons of scholarships and grants exist for students that want to study abroad.
The first place you can turn to is the UALR Financial Aid Office. If you are interested in traveling specifically to Taiwan, the Taiwan-United States Sister Alliance offers scholarships for stays in Taiwan, and several UALR students have traveled to Taiwan on these generous scholarships that cover tuition, housing, and some meals. If you are a Pell Grant recipient, the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program also offers financial assistance to students wishing to study abroad. If you are unsure whether or not you qualify for the Pell Grant, you may fill out an application at the Free Application for Federal Student Aid website. The Rotary Foundation also offers numerous Ambassadorial Scholarships. If you want to do research abroad, consider applying for the S.U.R.F. grant through the Arkansas Department of Higher Education to fund your research.
Remember: You are the key!
Take charge of your study abroad experience! Decide what you want, and start asking questions. Your talents, abilities, desires, and hard work will shape your experience abroad. Look for programs, apply for scholarships, and take responsibility for your experience abroad. The UALR faculty and staff will be there for you to guide you through the process. Funding programs such as Gilman and FAFSA could help pay for your study abroad. Grants are also available for volunteers and researchers overseas. Grab your passport- it will be worth it!