New Jerseyans debunk study abroad myths

“We just can’t afford it,” Darlene says, citing her daughter, Erin’s, fervent interest in studying abroad.

This feels like the end of the argument, much to Erin’s disappointment. Darlene knew that her daughter would have fun, make friends and visit remarkable places, as all parents want for their children. However, the sensible factors prevailed — if it wasn’t the finances, it was the danger in being abroad, the absence of lasting benefits or the lack of academic vigor, that led to her decision.

Clearly, there are some misconceptions brewing, because none of these things are true. With semester-abroad application deadlines coming up at the end of December and into early 2015, this is worrisome.

As one of the .7 percent of New Jersey students to study abroad in 2012, I found that the ideas parents nurse concerning study abroad tend to be distorted, not to their own oversight but instead to the widely accepted notions on the international programs.

For families struggling to meet rising tuition deadlines each year, the idea of spending thousands of dollars for their child to meander across Europe for a few weeks seems unfathomable.

However, most colleges allow students to transfer their financial aid packages, scholarships and merit awards to an approved study-abroad program, including Rutgers University, possibly making living costs comparable to if the student stayed at their home college for the semester, especially if housing costs are included in the international program or the program is hosted in a less-developed country.

Through my program at Monmouth University to Florence, Italy, I paid $300 in fees on top of my normal tuition to study abroad. Robyn Asaro, assistant director of Study Abroad at Monmouth, said that she recommends that students looking to travel frequently on the weekends should bring an additional $4,000 to $6,000 for a semester program. But that’s only for students who want to spend their semester that way — it’s not a necessity.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Students also can take advantage of their college’s specific scholarships, such as these offered for Rutgers University students, as well as these national study abroad scholarships that can be utilized by all students.

The thought of a child traveling internationally unsupervised can lead to severe parental anxiety. But Americans are 20 times more likely to die from a violent crime in the United States than are citizens of other developed countries in their nations, according to a 2013 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Throughout Asaro’s 14-year career in study abroad, she said that the extent of dangerous outcomes has been “a very minor injuries.” To prepare students for their time abroad, Monmouth coordinates four mandated safety meetings and works closely with affiliated international institutes to coordinate any issues.

Kyle O’Grady of Edison, who studied abroad in Florence as a Marketing and Finance major in 2013, said that she never felt unsafe abroad.

“Our group looked out for each other and it was a built-in support system,” she said. “Our study-abroad coordinator also kept in touch with us, and we also had an outlet at our Florence university to stay in contact.”

Kyle

In my experience, students who keep safe during their international studies utilize common sense, such as sticking to well-lit streets, traveling with at least one other person and keeping a low profile — no extreme safety precautions required.

It’s no surprise that 46 percent of all New Jersey post-graduates under 25 were unemployed or underemployed in 2012, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Parents may be surprised to know that time abroad may help their child not become a statistic.

Global Human Resources News conducted a study in which 73 percent of human resources executives cited study abroad as an important factor when evaluating job candidates for junior positions.

O’Grady said that she often finds herself talking about her study abroad experience on interviews, which, in one case, provided a connection with her interviewer that later landed her an offer. The venture also has also helped her develop an idea of her future career.

“Whereas before I felt a little lost, it definitely gave me direction on what I want to build my life around,” she said. “I want to work with a travel company or find a job in a new city.”

Plus, according to a 2012 Rutgers University report, 95 percent of study-abroad students found a job within one year of graduation, compared to 49 percent of the general population of graduates.

Megan Holt of Bridgewater, who studied abroad in Aix en Provence, France, as an International Business major in 2012, thinks that her study-abroad experience was the key to her current job with a French luxury brand that she landed within two months of graduation.

“Being able to tell my interviewer about my experience living with a French family helped assure them that I was accustomed to the culture,” she said. “Because I was applying to work for a French company, they valued my language skills and the fact that I was able to adapt and form relationships despite cultural barriers.”

Megan

Parents often worry that they could end up contributing to an expensive semester devoted to partying. However, being immersed in a new culture is the best way to learn a language and pursue other academic endeavors, plus most international schools offer exclusive classes.

Holt said, “I lived in a small French village where very few people spoke English. My French teacher herself spoke only a few words of English and taught entirely in French. I was essentially forced to learn the language.”

During my semester abroad, I took three hours of an Italian language course four days a week — not a possibility at my home school for reasons of time, availability or pure interest. I also met many art or fashion students receiving an unmatched experience, as Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance and has been named one of the 50 fashion capitals of the world.

Undoubtedly, studying internationally is a large undertaking. But hopefully, with the dissolution of these myths, more than 1 percent of American students will be able to enjoy what could be the most rewarding experience of their lives.

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