Feb. 13, 2013
Students enhance education with study abroad experiences
By Philip Gruenwald, media relations assistant
Northwest Missouri State University students who studied abroad in the fall trimester came back with stories of exotic sights, vibrant cultures and thought-provoking education, and deadlines are approaching for students interested in adding similar experiences to their education.
Students who want to study abroad should begin their research in the Study Abroad Office at the J.W. Jones Student Union, or by visiting the interactive world map on the Northwest Study Abroad website. They should start one year to one trimester before they want to study abroad. The deadline for summer and fall 2013 is March 10. For the spring 2014 trimester, the International Students Exchange Program (ISEP) deadline is Aug. 28, and the deadline for all other study abroad programs is Oct. 1.
“We try to narrow down the options for students because there are about 50 countries and many different programs they can do, but we try to find the program that will be the best academic fit for the student,” Study Abroad Coordinator Jeaneth Puriel said. “We want them to go to places where they will continue to advance toward their degree and not just take a semester off while earning extra credits.”
Puriel dismisses the misconception that studying abroad is only a sight-seeing vacation for students to travel around the world. While seeing other parts of the world and experiencing another culture are valuable, she highlights the educational benefits of learning a new approach in an academic field from scholars and students who live around the world. Skills and lessons students learn on their semester-long sabbatical can shape their career for years to come.
“I think it pushes students to think outside the box as to what they can do with their major,” Puriel said. “I have heard students say they have become better students because they experienced a different way of learning. They become more committed to their studies. They want to explore different parts of their field they haven’t thought of before.”
Puriel and the study abroad office do not want costs to limit students from spending a life-changing trimester studying abroad. If students are flexible with their country of choice, study abroad advisors can find universities abroad that fit their financial needs and degree program.
“If students only want to go to Australia or New Zealand, those are the two most expensive options,” Puriel said. “But there are programs where you pay Northwest tuition, room and board. If students are flexible, it is more or less comparable to what it would be to live on campus and take Northwest courses.”
Below are the perspectives of three Northwest students who recently participated in Northwest's study abroad program.
Matt Meier, Zuyd University of Applied Sciences in Maastricht, Netherlands
|Matt Meier, right, poses with friends while studying abroad last fall in the Netherlands.|
Matt Meier spent his first three years at Northwest busy with student organizations like AdInk and Cinema Society and had not considered studying abroad. He began thinking about it in January 2011. Less than a month later, he had the paperwork completed and his plane ticket purchased. He was ready to leave the United States and his comfort zone.
“I had never traveled far by myself, let alone ever left the United States, and I was about to travel to a country I had never been to, let alone one that I could point out on a map,” Meier, a senior interactive digital media major from Kansas City, said. “I couldn’t even speak the local language, but I ended up living there for four months and had the best time of my life.”
Meier took classes in multimedia and web management at Zuyd University in Maastricht, Netherlands. One course required group collaboration for promoting an augmented reality game. In addition to overcoming language barriers between students from France, Belgium, Spain and Poland, Meier developed leadership skills he brought back to Northwest.
“It was just something conceptual, but even now it’s paying off,” Meier said. “It’s helped me figure out what I want to target in the professional world too.”
Meier, operating video camera, is an interactive digital media major at Northwest and took classes in multimedia and web management at Zuyd University in Maastricht, Netherlands.
While studying abroad, some students gain a sharper understanding of the United States from an outside-in vantage point. Instead, Meier’s pursuit was to explain America to other students he lived and attended class with.
“It was really hard to describe to Europeans who had never been to the United States what America was like because their perceptions came from the media – not necessarily the news, but film and television,” Meier said. “They watch a lot of American film and American television, so they kind of have this stereotype in mind that we’re wild and loose.”
Between classwork, Meier found time to travel around the Netherlands and also to Germany and Belgium. For a Midwest native with little travel experience but a newfound appreciation for traveling, the trip took a while to sink in.
“I was biking to classes one day and it’s a 4-mile bike trip to school from the residence hall,” Meier said. “And I kind of had this thought of ‘I’m commuting to school on a bike in a country I would never have visited until just recently.’ It was rad.”
Kayla Etherton, Universidad Nacional (UNA) in Heredia, Costa Rica
Kayla Etherton, right, chose to study in Costa Rica to strengthen her Spanish speaking and understanding of the culture.
Kayla Etherton had been driven to study abroad since high school, when she developed a passion for other cultures. Three years into her psychology and Spanish degrees at Northwest, Etherton knew she wanted to take her language learning to the next level by diving headfirst into the culture in Costa Rica.
“Costa Rica really fit what I wanted to do,” Etherton, a junior from Lexington, Ky., said. “With their Global Exchange Program, we went to a really rural area for our last week – we had lived in a city the whole time – and we helped the community in whatever ways we could including building a swimming pool for children. Seeing the village gave us a whole new perspective on the country.”
Etherton studied at UNA through the ISEP program, which meant she exchanged schools with a UNA student for a trimester. She paid Northwest tuition, room and board to live and take classes in Costa Rica.
“The only extra costs I had was my airfare to get down there and insurance,” Etherton
said. “As long as you’re researching your programs, you’ll be able to find one that is within your budget. Plus, there are scholarships and other resources available.
Her Spanish noticeably improved through interacting with Costa Ricans, the nine Spanish courses at UNA and a tutor who met with her twice a week. She knows it takes more than a few months to become fluent in a language, but it is now easier for her to communicate in Spanish.
Etherton knew for years that studying abroad was something she wanted to do. However, some students are less confident about leaving home to broaden their horizons.
“Jeaneth told me that less than 1 percent of Northwest students study abroad, and that’s just really shocking to me because it’s such an awesome experience,” Etherton said. “For a lot of students, Northwest is pretty close to home and they are not used to living far away from home, but you’ll make new friends that you’ll keep for a lifetime.”
Mallory Conley, Johannes Kepler Universitat in Linz, Austria
Although studying abroad was a requirement of Mallory Conley's degree program, she enjoyed traveling and learning firsthand about other countries and cultures.
As an international business major, Mallory Conley was required to study abroad to earn her degree. Through ISEP, she narrowed down her options to institutions that excelled in business, and she was accepted to her top-choice school.
Conley learned international travel tips at a study abroad conference at Northwest in spring 2012. Study abroad veterans gave advice on money, safety and health while living and travelling internationally. The information helped Conley prepare for Austria, but most of her cultural education happened once she arrived.
“It’s a lot different from America,” Conley, a junior from Kansas City, said. “I liked it a lot, but it made me realize what’s different about America. I was in a town of 180,000 people but everything was so close, so I pretty much walked everywhere.”
In the course of four months, Conley traveled by car twice. The rest of her travel was by foot, tram or train. She flew to Austria by herself, but was hardly alone during her time there.
“It was kind of hard to fathom four months in my mind, but it just flew by,” Conley said. “It also helped that my roommate was American. The entire floor I lived on was American, so it was like a piece of home. I missed my family and friends, but at the same time the community I had there became my family because that’s who I had.”
The education and international exposure Conley had reinforced her eagerness to pursue international business in her career. With her experiences at Johannes Kepler Universitat in Austria, Conley thinks she has a higher chance of excelling in a career.
“I have international experience, I have language experience, I’ve dealt with different people plus I’ve been to Africa,” Conley said. “I got to travel to other countries while I was in Austria too, so I’ve been surrounded by people from the Czech Republic, England, Austria and Germany, so I think having those experiences will help set me apart when the time comes to apply for jobs.”
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