By Lizett Ross, Executive Secretary
“I really didn’t intend to learn abroad in college,” said Beth Laux. “But I had a political science professor who was adamant that I apply to a program in Costa Rica during my sophomore year.” As the Director of Learning Abroad at the University of Utah since 2013, Beth can trace the impact the experience had on her life and career. “Without my experience abroad, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to focus on international education.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Learning Abroad at the U. In the past 50 years, the program has grown to include over 500 programs in more than 65 countries. The most current data shows that over 600 students participated in learning abroad programs in the 2015-2016 school year. This includes students from over 100 majors.
For many learning abroad alumni, the experience becomes a life-changing moment. Beth was inspired by the confidence she gained abroad to try new things and discover a new career path. Daniel Watson, Marketing and Technology Coordinator for the Learning Abroad office, found his passion for international education during his experience as an undergraduate in Spain.
Daniel returned to Spain after graduation for three years to teach English and continue to work on his Spanish. After coming back, he decided to get his Master’s degree in International Education Management. “When I came back, I knew the importance of interacting with people from different cultures and different countries. I wanted to get into a field which would help me get American students out of our bubble here in the U.S. and get them abroad.”
Some students believe that only certain majors can study abroad, that it will not be a beneficial learning experience, or may delay their graduation. The Learning Abroad office selects highly academic programs and the experience abroad can be an opportunity for students to begin to network in their field. For example, the Learning Abroad Global U Program can help students turn their international experience into transferable skills and earn Learning Abroad badges in career development, community engagement, language immersion, and research experience. This helps students learn to articulate the skills they learned in a marketable way. Jacquée Williams, Learning Abroad Coordinator, feels the program helps students look at their experience in a new way. “Although many students go abroad, it’s only when they have the opportunity to reflect on what they have learned, and how they learned it, that they are really able to examine the gains.”
For students who believe the experience will be too expensive, “There are a number of resources to help defray the cost of a Learning Abroad program,” says Laux. The Learning Abroad office holds regular Learning Abroad 101 information sessions where students learn about the application process, scholarships, and advice on how to pick a program. Students can also meet with coordinators to discuss scholarships in detail and identify which ones are best for them. Close to 25% of applicants receive scholarships each year for their time abroad. Students received over $350,000 in scholarships during the 2015-2016 school year.
For more information regarding Learning Abroad, please call 801-581-5849 or visit https://learningabroad.utah.edu/.