Economy Will Not Deter UW Study Abroad Travel [The Daily Cardinal]

By: Cassie Holman /The Daily Cardinal – November 24, 2008

Mounting the Acropolis and gazing out over the sprawling city of Athens is etched in UW-Madison senior Mike Osberg’s memory.

So is combing the beaches of Normandy, basking in the sun on the Spanish Steps of Rome and witnessing the Changing of the Guard in London.

Experiences such as these are what Osberg remembers of his time studying abroad.

“Seeing things firsthand puts everything you learned in school into a real-life perspective,” Osberg said. “You can’t drink Belgian beer or eat Italian gelato from a book.”

Osberg, who is double majoring in international studies and economics, studied in Brussels, Belgium, from January to May 2008 and visited 11 countries during his time overseas.

Last year, approximately 1,900 UW-Madison students participated in a study abroad program, up about 14 percent from the year before. In fact, UW-Madison ranks 10th among U.S. research universities for study abroad participation, according to the annual Open Doors report, released last week by the Institute of International Education.

The popularity of studying abroad continues to grow, but as the economy waivers, international travel may not seem feasible to young adults and college students.

“If you understand the value of going abroad, the non-monetary gain is far beyond what it will cost you to go there,” Osberg said.

Another UW-Madison senior, Jessica Megna, already has her ticket to London for spring semester. Megna agreed that the gains of studying abroad far outweighed the costs.

“I know London is expensive. I know I’m going to spend money,” she said. “But it truly is an opportunity. I can travel when I’m older, but I will never again be a student studying abroad. I can’t wait.”

Many UW-Madison students share similar sentiments, and the campus does not come up short on resources for prospective study abroad students. International Academic Programs is the most widely used study abroad service on campus. In 2007-’08, it offered 106 study abroad and exchange programs on six continents and in 46 countries.

“We’re trying to help the student find a program that fits them,” said Claire Marcus, a senior working at the IAP office in Bascom Hall. “We ask them questions to get a feel for why they are studying abroad and what they want to get out of it.”

Marcus studied abroad twice, spending a summer studying in Florence, Italy, before going to Australia for an internship. Marcus said student peer advisors and marketers make up the staff at the IAP office.

The Wisconsin School of Business, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and College of Engineering also offer programs for their students. In total, UW-Madison offers 223 short, semester-long and yearlong programs in 51 countries on every continent except Antarctica.

Program costs fluctuate depending on the amount of travel included, housing accommodations and the exchange agreement between UW-Madison and the foreign university. Students are generally responsible for travel costs to their study abroad destination, but some programs will reimburse students for the cost of their flight.

“Study abroad costs vary by program and country, but our pricing is done on a cost-recovery basis,” said Masarah Van Eyck, director of communications for UW-Madison’s Division of International Studies. “We offer scholarships and encourage students to apply for financial aid.”

Van Eyck said in the 2007-’08 school year, UW–Madison provided more than half a million dollars in study abroad scholarships to 310 students.

“Because we believe that study abroad plays a pivotal role in helping students develop as global citizens and professionals, we are dedicated to making study abroad affordable for all students who are interested in participating,” she said.

According to a national poll by NAFSA: Association of International Educators, more than 90 percent of Americans believe it is important to prepare future generations for a global society.

Van Eyck said about 17 percent of undergraduates at UW-Madison study abroad before graduating—far above the national average. The goal, she added, is to send 50 percent of undergraduate students abroad by 2020.

Osberg said he will continue to reap the benefits of study abroad when he enters the work force. “Brussels is considered the capital of the [European Union], and learning that firsthand from people there was really beneficial to me and to what I want to pursue in my career,” he said.

IAP representatives agreed that the benefits of a study abroad experience will follow students into the workplace. Employers desire people who can adjust to a variety of situations and cultures and can acclimate in a global workplace.

“All of our graduates, whatever their major, need the global skills, attitudes and knowledge essential to succeed in our increasingly interconnected world,” Van Eyck added.