The Center for International Education has been hectic these last few days, wrapping up Orientation Week and launching International Education Week, which started Monday.
The purpose of both of these events is to better equip students to travel abroad — an experience that can be daunting, life-changing and, in the words of Madeline Brown, “absolutely worth it.”
“During my five months abroad in the Netherlands, I learned more about myself and the world than I had in my two and a half years at UT,” Brown, senior in journalism and electronic media, said. “The anxiety that comes with being in a foreign country soon wears off and before you know it, you’re having the most interesting and thrilling time of your life.”
Some of this initial anxiety can be avoided if students are informed about the culture they are about enter and what they can expect during their travels. This is where the orientation and international education weeks come into play.
“Pre-departure orientation is mandatory for all students before they study abroad,” Anne Hulse, Programs Abroad coordinator, said. “We go over health and safety, which are of the utmost importance, but we also talk about ways to make the most of their stay.”
Students are divided into groups based on the region they are traveling to and meet with either a peer adviser who has already studied there or an exchange student from that region.
“For students who are going to England, for instance, they can receive the best advice on how to live there and what to expect because they are talking to a person who is actually from there,” Demi Venkov, senior in theater, said. “And as a peer adviser who studied in England, I give the perspective of an outsider who assimilated into their culture.”
Venkov, who spent a year studying drama in Manchester, U.K., listed England, Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia, Australia, Asia, Africa and South America as some of the destinations orientation participants will be traveling to for Spring Semester.
“There’s a lot of people who go in the spring and our numbers are increasing every single year,” Venkov said.
More than 800 students studied abroad last year, and the numbers are growing. This increase in popularity is well deserved, said Rochelle Breen, senior in linguistics who spent a year in Tokyo.
“Studying abroad is such an incredible experience,” Breen said. “It shows you how big the world is and yet how small it is. There are so many different people and different cultures and different ways of doing things, but then when you get to the human level, it’s all the same.”
Beyond providing students with a new life perspective, studying abroad can also have a significant impact on their future careers.
“It helps make you more marketable for jobs and grad school in the future,” Hulse said. “Study abroad students gain skills that any employer would value, like being able to take on new challenges, being creative, stepping outside of your comfort zone, working with people who are different from you, problem-solving and, for some, having learned another language. It helps students to grow as a person, become more independent, and grow in confidence in themselves.”
If one is considering working internationally, studying abroad is an excellent way to test out living in a foreign country, she said. Others choose to study in a location where ancestors lived.
“It’s like tracing your history and seeing the culture up close,” Hulse said.
With so many reasons in favor of studying abroad, why don’t more students do it? Finances largely seem to be the answer.
“I think a lot of students don’t realize how affordable it can be,” Venkov said. “Especially since at UT, our exchange program allows you to pay UT tuition overseas. That’s huge. And since you can also use your scholarships, it turns out to be really affordable.”
Students can also receive full class credit for courses taken abroad, meaning that they can stay on track toward graduation. And, according to Brown, everyone can find a program to enjoy.
“You can study abroad for as short as a few weeks in the summer or do a semester or full year,” Brown said. “We have programs in 54 countries. There are also semester-long programs directly related to one field of study — mine, for example, was a journalism program.”
For those interested in learning more about studying abroad, the Programs Abroad Office holds information sessions from 2-4 p.m. on regular class days.
“I had the time of my life living as an international student and making friends from all over the world,” Brown said. “It’s an experience everyone should try.”