Imagine the beautiful city of Rome and all of its attractions: the Colosseum, the Romano Forum, the Pantheon and the Vatican. Now, imagine enrolling in a semester abroad program and living in Rome for a semester. To some, the experiences of participating in a semester abroad, are priceless and with careful planning, anyone can travel the world.”Studying abroad has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Lori Belinsky, a psychology and foreign languages major, said. Belinsky has participated in three study aboard programs.
There will be a study abroad symposium Oct. 10 from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m. in Sykes Ballroom C for students who are considering studying abroad. The event is being organized by Alpha Mu Gamma, an active foreign language honors society that is advised by Dr. Alice Speh.
The goal of the symposium is to inform students of the steps to be taken in preparation for studying abroad and to answer questions regarding transfer credits and financial aid and to discuss what programs are available to students.
Many study abroad opportunities are available at West Chester University. Professors representing a few departments will be there to discuss their particular programs. These programs differ slightly from independent study abroad programs.
Dr. Gary Coutu, a professor of the Geography and Planning Department, is organizing a trip to Thailand during the first Summer Session, May 22-June 12, 2008. The class is GEO402/502: Topical Seminar in Geography of Southeast Asia.
The trip will focus on two areas of Thailand in and around Bangkok and the Krabi Province. Students enroll in the program through WCU and travel with Coutu and other WCU students.
Sites that will be visited in Thailand include the old capital, an ancient city, a crocodile farm, a Thai university, temples, palaces and many markets.
“The goal of the course is to teach students how to be world travelers,” Coutu said. “We spend time in areas where I am familiar and I am able to introduce students to a variety of different areas.”
Any undergraduate or graduate student who enrolls in GEO 402/502 can go on this trip. There are opportunities to stay in Thailand after the class has ended. According to Coutu, some students choose to stay and teach English or stay to do research for a master’s thesis.
Several students will share their experiences at the symposium and will also answer any questions that students have.
Belinsky encourages students to attend who plan on going abroad, looking for a specific program or just want to gather more information.
“We want students to realize the invaluable experience of studying abroad and how it is worth all of the hard work and effort,” Belinsky said.
Preparing for a semester abroad requires time, effort and organization. Students must take preparatory steps to ensure a successful study abroad experience and a smooth transition back to WCU, according to Angela Howard.
Howard is the assistant director of International Studies and is the liaison between the student, the study abroad program and the Registrar, Bursar, Financial Aid and housing offices. Any students who are considering going abroad should speak with her before making any plans.
“In the age of globalization, I think that all students should consider studying abroad for a semester,” Howard said. “It is a necessary experience to work in a global society.”
Students who still would like to go abroad in spring of 2008 should speak to Howard before Oct. 12 to begin the paperwork process. Howard can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is available by appointment only, and her office is located in McKelvie Hall in the Graduate Studies office.
Transfer credit specialist Carole Deemer advises students to make sure that they successfully complete all of the paperwork and fill out the forms for the Registrar’s office.
Students need to visit each department and have a transfer credit approval form signed by the department chairperson to receive credit for their classes abroad.
Students should also schedule classes for that same semester at WCU just in case the students decide not to go abroad.
A term withdrawal form needs to be submitted and a place holder will be put on the student’s account to assure full-time student enrollment, according to Deemer.
Deemer is the person who applies the transfer credits to the student’s transcript upon returning to WCU.
“It is important to have your transcript sent directly to me,” Deemer said. “It will speed up the process and will ensure that you receive credit for all of your classes.” Students who go abroad will also receive priority scheduling for their return semester at WCU.
Financing a semester abroad is usually a concern for some students and parents. Financial aid such as scholarships, loans and Pell grants can be applied to a program.
“It is key to start early if you are going abroad,” Dana Parker, director of the Financial Aid office, said. “Most programs are willing to work with you.”
Paperwork from the other program and a consortium agreement must be submitted to apply financial aid to the study abroad program. Students must also contact the Bursar’s Office to make arrangements of where their reimbursement check must be sent.
It may seem like it a lot of preparation, but with planning, organization and clear goals, anyone can go abroad, Parker said.
“I will admit it is not easy,” third-year political science major Sara Mendicino said. “There is a lot of paperwork and it is almost like applying for college all over again. I just keep thinking that in months I will be studying in Rome, traveling Europe and having the time of my life. All of that makes the paperwork seem like a breeze and worth every second.” Mendicino will be going abroad in the spring.
The reasons why students decide to go abroad range from the desire to travel, family heritage and interest in a particular field of study.
“I hope that I can learn more about gender issues and social change in Latin America,” Kendra Gruber, a political science international relations major and Latin American studies minor, said. “I eventually want to move to Mexico and I would like to write a book about revolutions and socialism in Latin America.”
Semester abroad opportunities are virtually endless with programs located all over of the world. Students should consider what they want to get out of their program before deciding on a location.
Once students decide what it is they hope to gain from their experiences, they can begin the process of searching for a program that will align with their goals, Howard said.
While traveling the world, students can gain knowledge and experience that cannot be found in a classroom. A semester abroad program takes students out of the traditional classroom setting and immerges them into a different culture and society. These experiences may be difficult to gain anywhere else, according to Howard.
If a semester abroad in Italy, Spain, Australia, Germany, Czech Republic, Ireland or France sound exciting, maybe a semester abroad is something to consider.
Hannah Severtson is a fourth-year student majoring in Political Science with a minor in Journalism. She can be reached at HS597440@wcupa.edu.