By ROSS SELLERS and ALLISON ERWIN/Montana State News
“It was a truly life changing experience,” said Lea Skrædderdal Schou who came to Montana State University in fall 2015 from Copenhagen, Denmark. She has countless positive memories of studying abroad, and her experience marks a common trend in students who study abroad.
Immersing oneself into another culture can have a lasting impact; at MSU students are encouraged to take time studying abroad because of its multiple beneficial effects. Culbertson Hall, bordering College Avenue, is where students can find resources on study abroad.
Four flights of stairs to the top level, a short walk down the hallway to the right and any individual can find themselves taking the first steps to another country. For some on MSU’s campus it’s also the headquarters of their international experience, as MSU was foreign soil to more than 700 (5 percent) students during the Fall 2015 semester, according to the MSU website’s quick facts page.
Yet, only 2-3 percent of MSU students go on a study abroad, according to the study abroad office at MSU, which is quite a bit less than the rest of the U.S. population of undergraduates at 10 percent, according to Open Doors database.
While the benefits of living in another country have been widely recognized, the long-term effects are not discussed to the same degree. Do students that have studied abroad have an upper hand in the job market?
A study conducted by the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES), surveyed 3,400 study abroad alumni and found when questioned about academic pursuits, “87 percent of respondents said that study abroad influenced subsequent educational experiences, 63 percent said that it influenced their decision to expand or change academic majors, and 64 percent reported that it influenced their decision to attend graduate school. Nearly half of all respondents have engaged in international work or volunteerism since studying abroad.”
IES also found that studying abroad “positively affected students’ career paths, world-view, and self-confidence, and continued to influence their lives for years after the experience,” according to an article written for the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice.
Studying abroad is not solely about experiencing a foreign country and the excitement associated with traveling because immersing oneself in another culture teaches an array of lessons.
Jenna Pinto, a recently returned MSU abroad student found studying abroad invaluable. “There is no better way to question all of the morals and ideals that have been intrinsically implanted in you from the society in which you reside than by moving to a different society, and immersing yourself in their morals and ideals,” said Pinto.
Pinto studied abroad in Chile and has been greatly affected by her study abroad experience since returning. “Now that I have returned I notice the impact on my life almost daily. Sometimes in professional settings but also in general settings I find that I am able to relate to a wider audience of people,” Pinto said.
Students who study abroad almost always enjoy the experience and learn a lot from it, which is why MSU is placing so much emphasis on ensuring that they push students to think about joining an international study.
Alyson Roberts, study abroad advisor and outreach coordinator for MSU, certainly understands the lasting effects of a study abroad. “The impact of study abroad is felt for years after the experience, if not for a lifetime,” Roberts said.
Unfortunately, the United States does not place as much emphasis on international study as the rest of the world, and specifically Europe.
Erasmus, the European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, has greatly increased the amount of international students abroad from Europe, and the results are certainly worth taking note of.
According to an article published in February on Inside Higher Ed, a study regarding Erasmus as the subject found that “alumni had an advantage in finding a first job: 2 percent of program alumni needed more than 12 months to find a first job, compared to 4 percent of nonmobile alumni. Five years after graduation, the unemployment rate for internationally mobile students (7 percent) was 23 percent lower than for nonmobile students (9 percent).”
Studying abroad obviously helps the students acquaint themselves with the diversity of culture, which is becoming more necessary with the increase of a more globalized world-view in the work environment.
“Studying abroad taught me how to work with people I might not have much in common with,” said Skrædderdal Schou. “While in a job interview I was able to stand out from others by discussing my experience in Bozeman, a place where not many people in Denmark have traveled to.” She explained how marketing her study abroad to future employers showed them skills that would not necessarily transcribe on her resume.
Even though the U.S. hasn’t been placing as much emphasis on international study as the rest of the world, U.S. student participation in study abroad has still more than tripled in the past two decades, according to Open Doors.
Furthermore, in a poll given on election day in 2012, which asked the U.S. public to respond to three questions regarding the usefulness of studying abroad and the necessity it provides to global education, the public responded with an average of 61 percent agreeing that it was necessary for students to gain global awareness, according to NAFSA, the Association of International Educators.
Two of the three questions topped out 63 and 64 percent regarding the necessity of international study to education, and competing in the global economy, respectively. The final question asked if more students needed the opportunity to study abroad, and 56 percent of the population agreed that it was necessary for more students to study abroad.
These sorts of numbers are why many institutions around the United States are trying to expand their study abroad capacity, and help their students recognize the benefits of studying abroad. MSU is no different from any of these other institutions, which is why Roberts is determined to share her experience with others.
“For me personally, my study abroad in India changed my life and continues to influence many life choices. I can say with utmost certainty, I would not have the career that I have. The skills I gained abroad, such as adaptability and creativity, have served me incredibly well in my career, graduate work, and personal life,” said Roberts.
For Roberts, studying abroad is an experience that every student should try and take advantage of, which is why she also heads the Global Ambassador Internship program at MSU, a program which introduces former MSU study abroad students to the rest of the student population as a resource for learning about studying abroad.
Corie Rice, one of these Global Ambassadors, has brought the experience to her every-day life.
“I have a new awareness of how easy it is to get very comfortable in your routines and surroundings. Once everything you are used to is gone, you seem to notice all the little details again. Since I have come back from Thailand I have tried to notice those little details in people and places that I see everyday. I am trying to push myself to find new friends and new experiences that can make a walk down the street in Bozeman as exciting as a walk down the street in Bangkok,” said Rice.
Rice is also excited by the prospects an international study brings to her resume. “Studying abroad absolutely makes your resume look better. It shows that you have experience interacting with people and cultures that are entirely foreign to you. This takes a lot of patience and communication, and helps you develop people skills. It also shows that you are striving to be a conscious global citizen,” Rice said.