Aleksis Melo in Sevilla, Spain

Destination Elsewhere: More Students Study Away

October 30, 2015
By: Worcester State University News

Worcester State students are among the record number of United States undergraduates studying in countries around the world. At WSU, the number of students who “studied away” grew by more than 160 percent between 2010 and 2014.

Nearly 290,000 U.S. undergraduate students studied abroad during the 2012-2013 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education’s 2014 Open Doors report. A majority (53 percent) went to Europe, and the top four destinations were the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and France, respectively. Another 16 percent went to the Caribbean and Central and South America, while 12 percent went to Asia.

Global Expectations

The unprecedented surge at WSU began in 2010 as the International Programs Office started working with faculty to set an expectation for students to study away. They can choose a week-long faculty-led trip or to spend a semester or more at another university through an exchange and partner program, affiliated partner, or the National Student Exchange. (The 160 percent increase in students studying away doesn’t include students who participated in short trips with faculty.)

“Our students listen to their peers and faculty,” says Katey Palumbo, director of International Programs. “We engage faculty constantly, and we’ve developed an alumni program in which students do in-class presentations, present at campus-wide events, and speak to interested students at study away fairs. That feeds the culture shift.”

In addition, more faculty are working with the International Programs Office to develop new short-term trips, which usually have a class or lab component. Recently added trips include:

  • Assistant Professor of Biology Sebastian Velez’s biannual trip to the Dominican Republic
  • Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders Kara Medeiros’ inaugural trip to Cuba in March 2016
  • Associate Dean of Nursing Stephanie Chalupka’s trips to the Letterkenny Institute of Technology in County Donegal, Ireland
  • Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Hyesun Kim’s new trip to South Korea in July 2016 to explore the culture, crime, and criminal justice system in that country

WSU also recently established a partnership with the American College of Greece, and Palumbo has been exploring a partnership with a provider in Ireland.

Czech University of Life Sciences

Senior Jessica Robbins, a business administration major, became the first WSU student to study at Czech University of Life Sciences when she decided to spend the 2015 spring semester there. Approximately 3,500 American undergraduate students study in the Czech Republic each year, according to the Institute of International Education.

Spending a semester in Prague enabled Robbins to put her busy life as a commuter student living at home and working two jobs on hiatus and enjoy learning about life in Europe.

She roomed with two young women from California, and a student from Kansas roomed down the hall. “I also made a lot of friends from Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Croatia, and Hungary,” she says.

“The classes were taught in English. Many of my classmates were from Russia, some were from South America, and others were from many different countries,” Robbins says. “The campus is really, really pretty. They have a farm on the back of the campus with a botanical garden. They own a brewery, winery, and a castle. It had a restaurant, cafeteria, three clubs, and seven bars.”

The learning style was much different than at WSU, Robbins says. Professors didn’t provide a course syllabus. Project assignments didn’t include a rubric to guide students. There were no quizzes or tests, only final exams. The one exception was the mandatory week-long economics “block” she took with WSU Professor of Business Administration and Economics William O’Brien for one week in March. (He travels to Prague every year during WSU’s spring break to teach this block at Czech University of Life Sciences.)

In addition to taking business classes—including two that were graduate-level—Robbins traveled around Europe either on her own or on group trips organized on the social media community Buddy Go, usually staying in hostels.

“I went somewhere every weekend,” she says. “I flew to Belgium, took a train to Amsterdam, flew from Amsterdam to Dublin, and flew back to Prague. I went to Ann Frank’s house. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, we went inside the crematoria. I went to Kraków, Berlin, and Paris. I rode Europe’s tallest swing when I was in Vienna.”

“Right now, it feels like a dream. It was definitely different because it was the first time I had been away from home and out of the country,” Robbins says. “I could focus on making friends and traveling. It was fun to travel to a different country just because. I can’t believe I really saw those places and things.”

Universidad Pablo de Olavide

For juniors Aleksis Melo and Raquel Zelayandia, their 2015 spring semester at Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Sevilla, Spain, went so well that they want to return to Spain for the 2016 spring semester—this time to the Complutense University of Madrid. They are among the more than 20,000 U.S. students who study in Spain each year, according to the Institute of International Education.

“Adapting to the Spanish lifestyle, especially the one in the south, changed my view on life,” Melo says. “There, people prefer living over the busy go-go lifestyle we have in the States, and I think it is so important to not only work and study, but also to enjoy the present moment.”

Studying at Pablo de Olavide was very different than at WSU, says Melo, who was born in Albania and lived there for nine years. A double major in Spanish and communication, she took five courses in Spanish literature, a history of flamenco, Spanish culture through film, and Spanish civilization.

“I have never been more challenged in a language course than with my literature classes. This was fundamental in improving my reading and writing skills in Spanish,” she says. “However, the most incredible part was learning about history and culture in Spain, while also having the opportunity to see it with my very own eyes.”

Living in Sevilla taught Zelayandia, a double major in Spanish and business administration, to leave her comfort zone and become very independent. “Sevilla taught me that the other side of the world is very different than back at home—from food to weather to music. I compared the differences and learned to adapt and become a local,” she says.

Spaniards’ use of public transportation and walking to go places was a striking difference, Zelayandia says. “I was shocked how much I had to walk and use other kinds of transportation. I was also shocked that people would walk late at night and it was completely normal and safe.”

At Pablo de Olavide, “the classroom atmosphere was very different,” she says. “It was not a classroom of only Americans, but of students from all over the world. One day I was sitting next to a student from France, and the next I was sitting next to someone from Germany. For the first time ever, I couldn’t communicate in English with my classmates, but in Spanish because that was the only language we knew that we had in common.”

Related links:

Read about a WSU honors student’s recent experience studying in Spain. 

General Study Abroad Information 

WSU’s Study Away Program

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