by Brenna Duncan
Many college students dream of traveling the world. The unknown sights, cultures, and people have a fascinating draw. As students, we tell ourselves that we’ll travel after graduation, or definitely before we have kids, but travelling is something that most people put off indefinitely. Why wait? UCF has a study abroad program that travels to every habitable continent on the globe.
You can pack up for a few weeks, or you can stay gone all year. You can go with a group or venture out on your own. With so many different options, why don’t more Knights take the leap and study around the world? These are a few obstacles and misconceptions that keep a lot of Knights stuck in The Sunshine State.
Only 14% of American university students study abroad during their undergraduate years. Of those who do go, 97% find a job within 12 months of graduation. That is almost double the 49% rate of their peers who do not study abroad. With statistics like that plus the great experience, what keeps students at home? There are many reasons: some have no desire to travel, some are afraid of being alone so far from home, and many find the costs daunting.
If you’re nervous about leaving the country for the first time, there are trips available where you would be with a group of students and a faculty advisor the entire time. Students often have free reign to explore the area when they are not in classes or on group tours, and they can always choose to venture out in a group. These trips sometimes also require several meetings and team-building opportunities before departure so you can get to know your travelling companions. Students can also choose to leave for a shorter period of time if they want to. Trips in the summer last anywhere from two weeks to two months, so even if you want to take summer classes, you can travel for either Summer A or Summer B.
Finances are clearly a huge worry with the ever-increasing student debt rate, but there are options for those of us who don’t want to sell a kidney. The study abroad website for UCF contains an entire page of scholarships. They can be awarded based on a million different things, including GPA, major, region of study, and financial need, and the awards usually range from $500-$1500. For some programs that may still leave a number of costs to the student, but for a program estimated at $2000, it could defray the cost considerably. There are also sources outside the university that sponsor scholarships; these can be found in a few minutes with the magic of Google. If you already receive financial aid from UCF, it may be possible to have that money applied to your study aboard program if you choose to study for an entire semester.
If you do end up studying abroad, the benefits are endless! That may sound like overkill, but it really can create benefits that help you for the rest of your life. Lauren Polson, a Knight who recently returned from two weeks in Germany, said, “I really expanded my comfort zone. I learned to be more independent and execute decisions by myself. Plus, I made a lot of new friends.” For people on the shy side, it may help them come out of their shell. Studying abroad can help anyone learn to relate to others of a different culture and broaden their world perspective. Several UCF professors also believe students should venture out. Dr. Kacie Tartt said, “I am a HUGE proponent of study abroad… I believe that every student should take advantage of the opportunities associated with it even if they are not language majors.”
If you’re graduating within the next year or two, you may be thinking that you don’t have the time or that you’ll travel once you have a full time job and can swing the money, but studying abroad makes you more marketable to employers now. When Lauren was asked if she felt more employable after going abroad, the answer was a resounding yes. She said, “I improved my people skills, expanded my comfort zone, and learned about differences in culture and how to communicate with people who think differently than me.” All of those are qualities that are invaluable in the workplace. Dr. Christine Hanlon of the UCF Communication department confirmed this, “Study abroad programs provide students with an opportunity to step outside their comfort zone and learn about other cultures. Cultural competence is so important in today’s world, both professionally and on interpersonal levels.”
When an employer asks the inevitable question about a time you had to work through a challenge or with a diverse group of people you can talk about working with students and faculty from another country.
Some students also think that study abroad is only for the language or psychology majors – they could not be more wrong! There are programs that are specific to all types of majors, the current ones being Communication, Hospitality, Political Science, Engineering, English, Spanish, and Math. There are actually the most major-specific studies for Engineering students, but of course there are many non-major specific programs that anyone can go on as well.
Once you get started, the whole process is fairly simple. You go to the UCF Study Abroad website, create a username and password, fill in some personal information, and apply to the program you want. Different programs have different major or GPA requirements and a few have a language proficiency requirement. Once your application is done, the only thing to do is wait (and apply for scholarships). If you still can’t quite decide on a program, the annual study abroad fair is on October 8th in the Pegasus Ballroom from 10am-2pm, and many countries will be represented.
Even if you choose to only go for a two-week trip, studying abroad can positively affect the rest of your life. You may make friends that you stay in touch with once you’re back at UCF. You may develop a passion in an area that you never would’ve known you love. Perhaps that story about studying mechanical designs with Chinese engineering students may just be the one that lands you your dream job!
UCF study abroad website is: http://studyabroad.ucf.edu/