Far Horizons

Study Abroad Is No Longer a Dilettante's Diversion by Fernando Quintero

More than six times as many students from other countries come to the United States for higher education as Americans who study abroad.

Students from Asia on US campuses number 63 times more than American students studying in the Far East.

In an increasingly global economy, the implications for such a foreign study imbalance are broad and far-reaching. American businesses will remain at a distinct disadvantage if they are unable to negotiate with their counterparts in Asia and other countries across language and cultural barriers.

And as recognition of cultural diversity grows, so does the need for personal contact with those from other nations.

For Alex Saragoza, associate professor of Chicano Studies and new director of the campus's Education Abroad Program, bridging the foreign-study gap means rethinking the way study abroad is looked at in this country.

Gone is the long-held fantasy of reading poetry in a Parisian cafe during a sophomore year abroad.

"Before, study abroad emphasized language and culture--trips to museums, learning about the local architecture and literature. That is still an important aspect, but we believe international education should also enhance a student's academic and professional goals," says Saragoza.

"We need to increase opportunities for students to make international study part of the educational package here," he says.

The new study-abroad program provides internship opportunities, professional-development training, and intensive study in a wide variety of disciplines and fields.

For example, the program at Georg-August University in Göttingen, Germany, targets fields in business and management studies, economics, political science, and the natural sciences.

The challenges to recruitment efforts, Saragoza says, include eliminating the stereotypes about study abroad held by both students and faculty.

"The persistence among some faculty is that study abroad is just a good time. Lots of units with easy grades. If anything, it puts an increased emphasis on the academic rigor of foreign study."

For students, a prevailing belief is that study abroad will lengthen the time toward completion of their degree, said Saragoza. "In many instances, study abroad can accelerate their progress toward graduation."

Other misconceptions about study abroad are that financial aid will be delayed or adversely affected. In fact, many forms of financial assistance are available to students studying abroad.

Students also assume they must have a high proficiency in foreign languages. To accommodate those students with little or no knowledge of a foreign language, there are short-term intensive language programs and programs taught in English.


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