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Sitting in class in Duluth in 2007, Laura Gross would have never guessed that she would take a trip up Australia's West Coast without knowing her traveling companions. But only a few months later, she hopped on a northbound bus from Perth, eager to explore her temporary home. Along the way, Gross was able to see the Pinnacles, the Hutt River Province, Monkey Mia, Shark Bay, and Turquoise Bay. Her trip to Australia also gave her the opportunity to swim with dolphins, go snorkeling, learn to surf, and meet people from a different cultural background.
The experience not only helped her to learn about Australia, but also to learn about herself. "I realized just how much I had grown," said Gross. "I never would have imagined that I could go 12 days without my friends and family. It made me realize how much I could do in life." She said the solo trip from Perth was an "aha" moment, "I understood how lucky I was to have family and friends and how lucky I was to be in Australia in the first place."
The UMD International Education Office (IEO) describes the study abroad program as the single most effective and inspiring experience students can have to broaden their international and intercultural awareness. Besides Australia, UMD currently sponsors programs in England, Finland, Germany, Hawaii, Mexico, Mauritius, New Zealand, and Sweden. Other countries can also be explored, such as France, Ecuador, Russia, Japan, Denmark, Mexico, Spain, India, Hungary, and Kenya, through the U of M Twin Cities campus and other university sponsorships.
Out of the Comfort Zone
The experiences that Gross had in Australia epitomize the purpose of the study abroad program. Gross described the trip as the biggest eye opening experience of her life. Living with Australians and students from many other cultures helped to broaden her view of the world. "I had never left the U.S. before. When I got to Australia, I realized I had been living in a little fishbowl," said Gross. "It gave me a true passion for traveling, and now I pay more attention to global news rather than just local."
Dan Falknor, a fifth year senior, described his international study to Germany as a wake-up moment. “I was able to get out of Duluth, out of my comfort zone,” said Falknor. “It was a good time to step back from what I was doing with my life and figure out what I really wanted to do.” Falknor, a German studies major, studied abroad in fall 2007. He said that not only did the country have a big affect on him, but he was able to leave his mark as well. “I felt like an ambassador,” said Falknor. “The Germans had stereotypes for Americans, and I was able to try and help correct their negative opinions.”
IEO Director Alice Gail Bier encourages the idea of being an ambassador to the world. She said that the program is pushing non-traditional locations like China and India because of their future world importance. She also believes that it is important for students to choose their destination carefully. “We are very open to have students go on any program they wish,” said Bier. “We can help find a program that is really good for them.” UMD recognizes the importance of the study abroad program and has a goal to have 50% of seniors graduate with at least some international experience by 2012. Currently, that number is at about 26%.
The IEO is increasing awareness by developing and deploying a new advertising plan, and moving to an online application program that they hope to implement over the summer. “With the on-line application, if students want to apply in their pajamas, with a cup of hot cocoa in their hands, they can,” said Bier. She encourages students who will be sophomores, juniors, or seniors to consider studying abroad. Between UMD, any of the other U of M campuses, and outside program offerings, students have thousands of locations from which to choose.
The IEO is also working to make their programs more affordable, even though most student aid already applies to international study and the school offers about $80,000 a year in scholarships. Students who study with a program during J-term, fall and spring semesters can easily use their financial packages to cover the costs of study abroad. During May term and summer session using financial packages is workable with planning. "The Study in England Programme is especially affordable," said Bier. Students can live on the Birmingham campus, study with U.S. and United Kingdom professors, all for close to the price of attending UMD. Dan Falknor offered his own advice to students on a tight budget who are considering studying abroad. “There are many different programs to choose from,” said Falknor. “Shop around until you find a cheaper one.”
Students who want to learn more about international programs should be sure to attend the Spring Study Abroad Fair from 9:30 am to 3 pm on February 12 in the Kirby Rafters. IEO program staff and numerous program sponsors who represent hundreds of programs around the world will be available to answer questions.
Written by Jordan Hanson
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