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Archive for Saturday, August 10, 2002

Study abroad provides everlasting experiences

August 10, 2002

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Regan Lehman didn't know if she could spend 2 1/2 months studying overseas. She figured it would be too expensive and she wouldn't be able to spend that much time away from family and friends.

Then Lehman, Lawrence junior, traveled to Paris and Florence, Italy, as part of Kansas University's study-abroad program. When the program ended, she had a difficult time returning home.

"I just loved it," she said. "The minute I stepped off the plane, I loved it.

According to the Office of Study Abroad, 1,141 KU students studied internationally in the 2000-2001 school year. Another 350 students at other universities took classes through KU's program.

"I think studying abroad is probably the single most important thing a student can do to change their outlook on the world," said Susan Gronbeck-Tedesco, the office's director. "I think our world is changed, and people understand that. We're becoming more accommodating of more peoples and more cultures. Part of it is communications  the better ability to communicate through the Internet  and economics. We sell worldwide and people worldwide sell here."

Programs are flexible

KU offers about 70 study-abroad programs in 55 countries. New offerings include a general program in Trier, Germany, a business program in Paris and a chemistry program in Dublin City, Ireland.

Students can study overseas for a few weeks or months, a semester or year.

Gronbeck-Tedesco said the short-term programs were usually led in English by KU faculty.

Longer-term programs  which are typically taught in the native language by faculty from foreign institutions  "allow a more in-depth understanding of the culture," she said.

They also are more expensive. While short-term programs begin at just more than $1,000, a yearlong program can cost $10,000 or more.

A few scholarships, ranging from $250 to $1,500, are available for students wanting to study abroad. About 10 percent of students usually receive a scholarship, but officials are working to increase that number through fund raising with the KU Endowment Association.

"The main thing students tell us that hampers them from study abroad is the cost," Gronbeck-Tedesco said.

Despite the world turmoil and the 2001 murder of Shannon Martin in Costa Rica, a former study-abroad student conducting research there, safety concerns apparently haven't hurt the programs' numbers, Gronbeck-Tedesco said.

Applications were up slightly for the summer program and were about even for the fall semester.

The murder, however, did help convince KU to cut its program there beginning this fall.

"Our ongoing monitoring and review of the program on several levels have persuaded us that the climate in Golfito is changing," said Diana Carlin, dean of the Graduate School and International Programs. "The demands are more than our limited staff can handle."

Students in Golfito, the rural Pacific Coast town where KU students studied, for the first time this summer cited incidents such as harassment on city streets and in taxi cabs, Carlin said. Those students' concerns, along with the realization trials in the slaying would increase tensions, helped KU make the decision to pull the plug.

"They (the students) felt very unsettled by the whole thing," Carlin said. "With the whole microscopic examination of this (Golfito) community by the media, it's been difficult for them."

Carlin also said KU would have to spend $44,000 per semester to hire a co-director to monitor safety and to pay for the orientation program.

Checklist for Study Abroad

The first step in studying abroad is to contact a peer adviser in the Office of Study Abroad. The adviser can help students with their choice of destination and length of program.

All students studying abroad must participate in a one-day orientation program that includes dealing with culture shock, health, academics, money and packing.

Students also meet with a KU faculty member with expertise in the area where they'll be traveling.

The orientation now includes more information about safety than it did in the past. Some programs  including the Costa Rica program  now include in-country safety sessions. For Johanna Maska, studying abroad has been a practical way to complete course credits while having fun.

Maska, Galesburg, Ill., sophomore, went to Spain in summer 2001 and is in Cambridge, England, this summer. The spain program was about six weeks of classes.

"I wanted to get some credit hours and get a unique experience out of it," she said.

Maska said she stayed in touch with some of the students she had met in Spain.

"I'd definitely recommend it," she said. "I think it takes a strong person, but it makes you stronger in the process."

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