Are US Study Abroad Programs a Good Path to Global Citizenship?

I’ve talked before about the importance of exposure to cultural diversity and how grateful I was to have it as an integral part of my life growing up in Chicago.  I knew that this was something my kids would not have in their day to day life growing up in our homogeneous town of Chapel Hill, NC. Tom and I made it a priority to expose them in different ways with an eye towards global citizenship. We made it a priority to travel internationally from the time they were young, even when it meant long flights with cranky kids or making financial sacrifices.  As they are older now, we see them developing the qualities associated with global citizenship.

“Global Citizenship” is a bit of a buzz word, but something that is important to many individuals and global citizenshipfamilies. A global citizen is one whose identity includes, but expands beyond, the country in which they grew up. Global citizenship means being aware of, respecting, valuing and identifying with the world community, not just your home country. Since the countries of the world are part of their identified community, global citizens are just as devastated by atrocities occurring around the world as they are about those that occur in their home country.  Thus, the problems occurring in different countries around the world have global citizens attempting to affect change around the world’s problems.

Experiencing other cultures can help lead to global citizenship.  Through travel, you can see similarities and differences of each culture. You can incorporate parts of the cultures into your own life.  In our home, we always take off our shoes like they do in Japan and Sweden and try to include various hygge throughout following the Danish tradition. I love a good post lunch nap (Spain & Italy) and our pantry reflects food discoveries we have made in various countries. Further, I adapt the guidelines of Italy regarding acceptable levels of wine consumption!

Interacting on a personal level with people from different countries enables a greater perspective on world events.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, I had a really eye opening discussion with a 30 something hipster in Prague about his own experiences as a child under communist rule and his thoughts on the current situation in the US. While the qualities associated with global citizenship are important for personal development as well as increasing the problem solving around world issues, it is also highly valued by employers.

According to the Institute for International Education in 2016, 268,910 of the 1,785,452 US college students attended a study abroad program. That’s 15.1% of all students. Many students in the US hope to experience the world through these study abroad and many do. I have to tell you that I think these programs are the biggest rip off of all time. It’s yet another example of the problems associated with universities running like big business. In addition, some of the programs decrease the true impact international experiences can have. Let’s talk about a few examples.

global citizenshipThe University of Illinois (U of I) has many study abroad choices. One is with KU Leuven, in Belgium. Students attend classes at KU Leuven with KU Leuven students learning from KU Leuven professors.  Students doing this exchange can expect to pay over $15,000 for one, single semester!

Here’s the crazy thing- The tuition for an entire year for an international student is right around $1,425-as opposed to the $4,525 U of I charges for one semester of access to the same classes! U of I study abroad students pay just over $600 a month for housing that U of I arranges in a student residence with all the other American students. An international student can find easily find housing in student residences for $375 per month. Then, of course, there are the tremendous number of fees in addition to tuition at U of I (reduced, but still!) you will pay during your semester abroad. A full time international student at KU Leuven will pay less for his entire degree than an Illinois semester abroad student!

Some schools use a private study abroad provider. With many of these, students live a fairly self-contained existence and take classes through the provider, not even on the campus of a university. It reminds me a bit of a cruise and experiencing the semester as a tourist as opposed to a visiting student. There is a reputable provider who offers a semester in Copenhagen for $25,500.  For one semester!  That does include housing and some meals, but not transportation to and from the US. Let’s compare that to a student at Copenhagen Business School(CBS)-a prestigious school with triple crown international accreditation. Yearly tuition at CBS is right around $10,000 and rooms in student residences can be found for $400 per month.  Thus, you could be a full time student for two years with housing for what it would cost for one semester of study abroad.

For students who desire an international experience, I highly recommend exploring the 1,700+ English conducted full bachelors programs offered throughout continental Europe by becoming a member of Beyond the States. Not only are the financial benefits tremendous, but true immersion in another culture provides a path to global citizenship. Beyond the States offers a variety of ways to help students and their families navigate the European programs, admissions processes, housing and more with packages starting at just $89. 

European schools have a number of programs and policies in place to increase internationalization of their students-even if you are already an international student! Next week’s blog will piggy back on this week’s topic.  You see, European schools have a number of programs and policies in place to increase internationalization of their students.  We will look at the programs avaliable that enable students in Europe (even international students!) to study at school’s in more than one country (as a bachelor’s or master’s degree student) with no additional fees-and the possibility for a monthly stipend!

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