By Sherry Bithell
Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one's lifetime.
Those words, written by Mark Twain in 1870, remain just as true today. That’s why Stevenson University has long promoted study abroad programs.
Today, the promotion and organization of both international and domestic academic travel falls under the recently created Office of International and Off-Campus Study. Rebecca Pisano, Ph.D., Associate Dean, Study Abroad, has worked in the field of international education for more than 15 years and remains enthusiastic about the opportunities such programs offer.
“It’s a way for students to examine their subject from a different perspective,” Pisano says. “You not only learn about another culture and way of life but you’re also putting yourself outside of your comfort zone, which can be a great learning opportunity.” She also points out that added benefits not often considered are that students who travel gain cross-cultural communication skills, learn how to navigate new situations, and generally become more self-reliant—skills that hiring managers consider valuable. “Having participated in study away programs helps in job interviews. It gives you something to talk about, to show tangible proof of how you acquired critical soft skills through this distinctive experience.”
For these reasons, the Office of International and Off- Campus Study provides students with all the information needed to plan an international or domestic program experience. For example, Pisano says, “A lot of students think that if they don’t speak another language well enough they can’t go to the place where it’s predominantly spoken, but we tell them about program options that are specifically set up for international students, so it’s actually not a hurdle nor an expectation.”
Oh, the places you'll go. -Dr Seuss
The concept of a study away program encompasses any organized credit-bearing experience that’s course-based and takes place off campus and includes overnight travel. “It’s usually a structured experience for multiple students that has a travel component lasting from several days to several weeks (or even months),” Pisano explains. “The Washington Center Internship Program is one domestic example.” This independent nonprofit gives students opportunities to work and learn in Washington, D.C., for academic credit.
Stevenson offers two study away formats: faculty-led travel courses and affiliate programs in 50 countries around the world in a variety of academic disciplines during the semester, Winterim, Spring Break, and Summer terms.
Faculty-led travel courses are both domestic and international, and they tend to be short-term (defined as being from one to eight weeks in duration). These programs have a specific academic focus and locations can vary each year. For example, SU faculty-led travel courses during the 2017 Winterim will include forensic studies in Malta, human services in Jamaica, and environmental science in Hawaii.
Affiliate programs can be short-term or long-term, from a few weeks up to an academic year. Stevenson’s current six affiliate partners—with which the University has collaboration agreements—include opportunities offered by the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS), the Lorenzo de ’Medici Institute in Italy (called “SU in Italy”), and Academic Programs International (API).
Pisano says that typical housing scenarios for these programs can include a residence hall, an apartment with locals or other international students, or a homestay with a local family. In addition, some of SU’s options offer an internship or service experience. These types experiences were highlighted recently at the first annual Experiential Learning Expo. She also wants to make more students aware of the many scholarships available for international study, from national organizations as well as program-specific and SU scholarships. “The goal is to give students with different needs—including academic and financial considerations— the opportunity to participate in international and off-campus study through a variety of choices in courses, destinations, and aid mobility.”
A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it. - George Moore
The comprehensive student support Pisano’s office provides goes beyond advising and help with applications; it also includes helping students readjust when they come back to Stevenson.
“We offer re-entry resources for students upon their return. That’s because many times, they don’t anticipate the adjustment back to the United States,” Pisano says. “The more they integrate while they’re away, the more challenging the reintegration is. It’s basically reverse culture shock. Our job is to explain that it’s normal and that everyone goes through it to a certain extent. Also, often returnees find that their friends and family do not readily understand how they were affected by their travel experience.”
There are a number of ways to help returning students adjust. Several universities in Baltimore—including, recently, Stevenson—participate in a conference about returning from study abroad. The office also teaches the students how to take what they’ve learned and the skills they gained and translate those into their future plans. They are encouraged to join clubs, such as the International Student Association, as well as to volunteer in the office and at study abroad events to speak about their experience.
Overall, the Office of International and Off-Campus Study is well prepared to help students find programs and funding, fill out applications, and process their study away experiences. Pisano believes that taking part in a study away program, whether at home or abroad, is well worth considering.
“Often people will tell me that their one regret from college was not studying abroad,” she says. “The opportunity to live in another country is one that is so much easier to pursue during rather than after the college years, and is an integral part of a well-rounded liberal arts education.”