Studying abroad can give you a much-needed break from campus. It can introduce you to new places, scenery and ideas. It can make you into a whole new person, more confident and ready to take on trials such as traveling alone in a foreign country.
Or it can be a satellite of campus, where you spend your time with the same kind of people — or maybe even the same people — you spend your time with at Elon University. Yes, your surroundings may be different, but when you are with the same people, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of doing the same things you might do at Elon. You can leave study abroad transformed, or you can leave it the same person you were when you arrived.
“Studying abroad is a chance to forge your own path, be your own person and do your own thing,” said Emma Burress, assistant director of study abroad at the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center (GEC).
Students must decide for themselves what they want their abroad experiences to be. They can choose to go somewhere that will further their career goals or that offers courses specific to their major, or they can choose to go to the same abroad destination as their friends. These options are not mutually exclusive: It’s certainly possible to study abroad with friends and still have an experience that fulfills academic, professional, cultural and personal goals. But that is up to each student to determine for him or herself.
Elon’s GEC has Centers Abroad in Shanghai; San Jose, Costa Rica; London and Florence and Study USA Centers in Washington, D.C., New York City and Los Angeles. These centers are great fits for students with particular interests: Shanghai and London both offer internships, and students in Costa Rica can select courses that fully immerse them in the Spanish language.
But these centers also tend to host large groups of Elon students each semester. The largest, typically London and Florence, may host more than 50 Elon students during the fall semester, with smaller numbers in the spring. According to Amanda Zamzes, business and data manager for the GEC, of the more than 500 students off-campus during the fall semester, 212 are either at an Elon Center Abroad or a Study USA Center. In comparison, 253 are enrolled in Elon’s various affiliate programs.
“There’s a certain amount of comfort with something Elon has branded,” said Bill Burress, associate director of study abroad, of the popularity of Elon’s Centers Abroad.
The Centers offer safety in numbers, but that shouldn’t be the only reason students flock to them. They also offer excellent opportunities relevant to many Elon students’ academic and career goals — but if they don’t fulfill a student’s academic requirements or interests, that student should consider a different program.
“We want students to do the right thing for them, academically and personally,” Bill Burress said.
Students should want the same things for themselves. Specifically, before they decide to spend a significant amount of time and money on an abroad experience, they need to consider what they want to gain from the experience and how it will get them closer to achieving their academic, professional and personal goals. If spending the fall semester of junior year abroad — the most popular time for Elon students to spend a semester abroad — could prevent a student from graduating in four years, that is not contributing, and the student should consider other options.
Studying abroad is a part of many students’ college experiences, and the benefits should last beyond a single semester of college. Students must be willing to consider and do what’s best for them, not their friends.