Studying abroad is a tangible goal for everyone

By Phil Case

When I say the words “study abroad,” you probably think of some pretentious, trust-fund kids drinking wine in Paris after a day full of art appreciation classes. However, this is one of many common misconceptions that I would like to dispel when it comes to studying internationally.

First, many students seem to think of study abroad programs as a luxury that has no real, tangible value when in fact, the experience one gains transcends the academic world and reaches into the personal and professional realms.

“Study abroad can help students develop new skills and gain greater independence and self-confidence,” said Victoria Toussaint, interim outreach and programming coordinator for the NIU Study Abroad Office. “It demands a sense of adventure, leaving one’s comfort zone and actually experiencing other cultures rather than just reading about them. A study abroad or international internship experience will also set students apart from other job seekers in a very competitive job market.”

Another common misconception is that you have to be some sort of honor student just to get the chance to have such an experience. The truth is that while some programs require a minimum 2.75 grade point average, most programs do not have any requirements other than having at least sophomore standing and a clear judicial record.

If you are worried about not meeting these very reasonable academic requirements, I am sure you could put a little more effort into your Math 101 class to pull off some late-semester heroics and raise the GPA enough to get the chance to spend a semester consuming inordinate amounts of beer and sausage in the Bavarian Alps, right?

Lastly, perhaps the most common misconception about studying abroad is that it is unreasonably expensive and, thus, unaffordable for most college students. While your student job might not be sufficient for funding your academic pursuits in the Australian outback, it is not as unrealistic as you may think.

“Many program providers offer scholarships that can assist greatly in paying for the cost of the program. Financial aid and loans may also make a study abroad experience more affordable,” Toussaint said.

If you still are not convinced, there are meetings called Study Abroad 101 held in Williston Hall, room 417 every Wednesday and Thursday at 3:30 p.m. I would encourage you to attend one and see if it would be a possibility to take part in the program.

“We discuss the first steps to studying abroad, courses that are available, myths associated with study abroad, and we go over study abroad budgets,” Toussaint said.

With programs available in over 75 countries, you should really take advantage of the fact that you are in a situation where you are eligible for federal funding to help pay for your educational travels.