More than just American: why students should study abroad

Liz Powers, a Muir senior and Anthropology and Women’s Studies major, embarked on her third study abroad with an internship in West Africa this past summer. (photo provided by Liz Powers)

We all have our own rituals that comfort us—habits that make each day go by smoothly. But for college students preparing to soon enter the ‘real world,’ routines can be dangerous, isolating us from the beauty of exploration. Sometimes we need a nudge to force us out of the warm and cozy. Fear not; Central Michigan University’s Study Abroad program is more than eager to deliver that sucker punch out of naivety.

“There’s no better time than now,” CMU Study Abroad Outreach Coordinator and Adviser Sarah Barnard said. “Studying abroad can offer students so many different advantages academically, personally and professionally.”

Barnard encouraged that while programs differ in prices, there’s always financial aid available, refuting some students’ biggest apprehension to study abroad—price. There are over 150 programs in 40 countries with a multitude of financial aid programs and scholarships. Students can choose long or short term programs in a university setting with structured classes and group activities or choose a more independence with an international internship. However, Barnard and her office encourage that full semester terms are more beneficial to students.

“Semester programs give students more time to adapt, adjust and gain perspective,” Barnard said.

But the office has more than brochures and staff recommendations—they have plenty of peer advisers that have lived the experience abroad. Malorie Urda, a Haslett junior and Fashion and Merchandising major, would know, as she recently enrolled in her spring semester abroad in the United Kingdom at the University of Leeds.

By way of a tourist group, Urda was able to travel and experience the United Kingdom to the fullest, from Stonehenge to the streets of London. With this travel came notice of the country’s enormous amount of national pride. This pride was undeniable as Urda’s group of students camped out before the royal wedding to watch the Windsor family display its grandeur of social importance and fashion sense for millions of eager eyes. Urda stared in awe as Prince William loftily waved to his people with his new bride, Kate Middleton.

Malorie Urda, a Haslett junior and Fashion and Merchandising major studied abroad for a semester at at the University of Leeds, UK. (photo provided by Malorie Urda)

“People were so proud of their country and of Kate and Will that they were just weeping,” Urda said. “I think that’s something we just don’t understand here, given our system.”

Another systematic difference Urda noticed was in the University of Leeds’ relaxed educational style in which students would have one class a day and be required additional outside activities to enhance their learning.

“I feel like I actually learned more in that setting,” Urda said. “Interacting with other international students and by traveling and experiencing things for myself really helped me.”

But Urda is not alone in her development sparked by autonomy: Many students choose to participate in internships abroad that allow them to dip their toes into their fields of interest. Liz Powers, a Muir senior and Anthropology and Women’s Studies major, embarked on her third study abroad with an internship in western Africa this past summer. Leaving the classroom and structure behind, Powers worked to solidify her interest in non-governmental organizations by interning with a community health program in Ghana focusing on HIV/AIDS prevention and maternal and child health.

“Anthropology has always had an international focus and for me, studying abroad helped me learn more about different cultures and apply that learning to my classes here at CMU, and decide the direction I want to move into,” Powers said. “It’s all very applicable.”

But being immersed in a new culture also has its shocks. Being a white young woman, Powers quickly realized this as she spent her internship in a developing country.

“I’ve never felt so aware of my race and the prestige that followed me simply because I was white and an American,” Powers said. “You learn how the United States is perceived, positively or negatively, by other countries and where you stand in the world.”

However, students will never learn this if they don’t expand themselves through their perception of the world, their culture and learning.

“I wanted to be a peer adviser to help people realize that they can do what they want and try something new and experience something really different,” Powers said. “Because they can.”

Students have the resources and support they need. All it takes is that leap of faith into the unknown. They just have to discover that they’re more than their comfort zone—their personal box. They’re more than just American–they’re human.

“Going to a new country without anybody I knew really changed me for the better,” Urda said. “It taught me that sometimes it’s good to be vulnerable and scared.”


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