Study abroad opportunities for diverse students
“You can’t change the world if you don’t know anything about it.” — Jalessa Caples, Kent State University student
If your student — freshman, sophomore, or maybe even still in high school — hasn’t raised the topic of study abroad with you, perhaps it’s time for you to bring it up.
Back in the ’80’s, many of my classmates studied abroad but it wasn’t the rule. Times have changed. The number of students studying abroad has tripled in the past twenty years. At some universities, students choose from literally hundreds of programs touching nearly every corner of the globe.
Study abroad changes lives and minds, and helps students acquire global perspectives. That all sounds good…but from your point of view as a parent, possibly a bit vague. How about this statistic? Study abroad correlates strongly with student commitment and success. 97 percent of students who study abroad secure a job within a year after graduation compared to 49 percent of students who do not study abroad.
Best of all, the study abroad opportunity is now within reach of a larger cross-section of students than was the case in the past. Universities like Kent State in Ohio, where the transformative power of study abroad is recognized and honored, are reaching out to underserved students even before they begin freshman year. Kent State received the 2014 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) award for its outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Kent State University leads the way
I learned more about KSU’s innovative programming by speaking with first-year KSU student Jalessa Caples, who participated in Kent State’s Summer Institute in Florence, as well as her adviser, Stephon Brown.
Stephon provided some background on the program Jalessa attended, which was a pilot this year. Six incoming freshmen who had participated in Upward Bound throughout high school and would be “bridging” to Kent State in the fall were selected to study in Florence for a month. Upward Bound is a program dedicated to increasing the educational options of first-generation and lower-income students. Stephon himself had been an Upward Bound student who bridged at KSU, where he received a BA and MA. Stephon accompanied Jalessa’s group — the “Seminal Six” — to Italy last June.
A transformative experience
Stephon reported that it was “a transformative experience” for the students, who had not traveled out of Ohio or even their own communities. “Your view of life is limited if you don’t see past your hometown and university,” he said. “Being abroad shows that there are options beyond what you know, allowing you to focus on what you want to achieve. Your sense of ‘what I can do’ expands.”
Jalessa agreed that seeing Florence (and Siena, Rome, Pisa and the Italian coast) fueled her motivation to explore more of the world. It also was “a nice push” as she transitioned from high school to college. “It made me more open-minded about trying new things and made me want to work harder to show that I deserved that great opportunity,” she said.
The first in her family
Jalessa grew up fifteen minutes from Kent State and had never been far from home, much less on an airplane heading to Europe. Her family was supportive of her decision to go which helped her handle the emotions ahead of time. “I was a little scared at first, but I got excited on the plane,” she remembered.
In Florence, Jalessa took two classes (including one in Psychology, her major) and stayed in the medieval castle where KSU runs its Summer Institute. In her free time, she and her classmates explored Florence, took field trips to other cities, met new people, and immersed themselves in Italian culture.
The benefits continue
Upward Bound programming will continue throughout college for Jalessa and her “Seminal Six” classmates, providing what Stephon describes as “a huge family” and support system. The Office of Global Education fosters opportunities for students who’ve studied abroad to get together and share their experiences, and get motivated to pursue more study abroad. The hope is that this year’s pilot program of Upward Bound students joining the Summer Institute will be repeated in the future with the pool widening so that a larger group of students can participate.
Jalessa, meanwhile, knows she would like to return to Italy. Africa is another area she would love to travel to. She says she’s ready to study abroad again, maybe as soon as fall of her sophomore year.
Advice for families
When I asked Jalessa if she had advice for students who are unsure whether study abroad is a possibility, she said she would encourage them to talk to the Office of Global Education or Study Abroad. “They’ll help you find scholarships, and help with the whole process of applying, funding, and getting a passport.”
And what would she say to parents who might not be sure? “Be open-minded. Push your student to do it! It will help them more than they can know. You learn so much without even realizing it until you get home.”
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