UNL last in study abroad participation
University administrators have noticed. Funds have been shifted, more programs are being offered and officials are pushing for more students to go abroad.
And yet, growth is slow.
There’s a multitude of factors as to why, said Rebecca Luhrs Baskerville, director of UNL’s Education Abroad. They include things such as international culture not being a part of a student’s family background, fear of the unknown and homesickness for family left behind.
The main factor that defers students from studying abroad: cost.
“The perception that it’s too expensive is a main reason students shy away from studying abroad,” Baskerville said. “I think part of it is because UNL and Lincoln are so inexpensive that relatively it does appear at first to all students to be expensive.”
However, many students don’t realize the number of potential scholarships available to them, Baskerville said, and it’s one of the ways UNL is set apart from other Big Ten institutions.
“We have so many scholarships and so much funding,” Baskerville said. “If you look at the number of students going abroad compared to the amount of money we have, it’s really great per student the amount of funding we have. We have a handful of students who get everything paid for; a lot get a big, nice chunk paid for.
“The funds are there, it’s just that we have to convince students to meet us halfway with that commitment; whether it’s working and saving or taking out a loan.”
In comparison to other Big Ten schools, UNL directly supplies 24 scholarships, finishing slightly behind schools that often triple UNL’s study abroad participation numbers, such as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Ohio State University.
The number of scholarships at UNL will only go up in the future, due to an 11-year, $9.53 million contract between UNL and Union Bank and Trust Co. that will begin in March 2015. An annual $700,000 payment from Union Bank will be split between Education Abroad and the Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience (UCARE). The additional funds will provide Education Abroad with an opportunity to increase financing to students who wish to study abroad, particularly those that are currently underrepresented.
A study of UNL’s 2012-2013 study abroad data by the Institute of International Education revealed a substantial difference in study abroad participation among undergraduate grade levels. While 55.4 percent of the 542 undergraduates whom studied abroad last year were seniors, only 0.6 percent were freshmen, and only 8.1 percent were sophomores.
In order to elevate the number of freshmen and sophomores students who study abroad, Education Abroad has created a new scholarship, the Early Abroad scholarship, which is worth $2,000. Another new scholarship geared toward early undergraduate students is the AMP scholarship, which is for first-year students studying Arabic, Mandarin Chinese or Portuguese.
“The scholarships provide students that study abroad earlier with many opportunities,” Baskerville said. “Maybe they can study abroad again, they can talk to their friends to encourage them to study abroad, they make comments in class that relates back to when they studied abroad. It benefits them as well as the whole UNL community.”
Another way Education Abroad is pushing for study abroad experiences earlier in student’s undergraduate careers is through the development of a freshman-only program to Canada. The program takes students to Montreal and Quebec City, and is run by Dr. June Griffin and Dr. Emira Ibrahimpasic, who respectively are faculty director and assistant director for the William H. Thompson Learning Community.
“It serves as a get-your-feet-wet trip,” Baskerville said. “It will help them learn what it’s like to study abroad; what it’s like to navigate a new city in another country, and to hopefully get the wheels turning for a future study abroad trip.”
Where study abroad students go in the Big Ten
While Education Abroad is pushing for younger students to take the leap abroad, some study abroad returnees acknowledge that new scholarships would not have swayed their decision to study abroad sooner.
Even though UNL senior Marissa Koch always knew she wanted to study abroad, she does not regret her decision to study abroad in Costa Rica later in her undergraduate career.
“I felt that my junior year was the right time in my academic career to go,” Koch said. “I felt that I was mature enough at that point to handle being abroad for several months. I can’t say that having more scholarship opportunities earlier would have changed that.”
For Koch, scholarships didn’t sway her decision to go abroad. The true deciding factor was the opportunities provided through the experience. From her time in Costa Rica, Koch was able to further her studies in her Spanish minor. She also took away some important life lessons from her trip.
“Being able to go live in another country with strangers, and in my case, a whole new language, shows that you can handle adversity and adjust to just about anything,” Koch said. “That many months away really made me appreciate the life I have here and the luxuries we have in the United States that third-world countries don’t have.”
Baskerville agrees that the true selling point for study abroad trips is the experiences and life lessons one takes away.
“There’s so many reasons to study abroad,” Baskerville said. “The independence, the confidence, the problem solving; getting in the silly situations where you go ‘Oh, what do I do now?’ It all helps you become a more critical thinker and problem solver. It makes you realize that people do things different ways.
“There are so many things to learn from different people to bring back to our work and our lives here.”