March 1, 2012 – Studying abroad is an experience of a lifetime that only some college students are exposed to. Going to an institution of higher learning in a foreign country enables you to become immersed in a new language and broaden your horizons to become more global. After looking into Berea College and Eastern Kentucky University’s study abroad programs, I found some staggering differences. I have not studied abroad myself, which doesn’t come as a surprise. The national average of university students that study abroad is just over one percent, according to NAFSA (the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors). However, Berea College sends a much higher number of students abroad than the national average.
Around 50 percent of all Berea College students take time to study abroad during their college career, according to Adam Bailey, Education Abroad Manager at Berea. The campus sends anywhere between 100 and 200 students abroad every year. My immediate question was this: How? How do 50 percent of Berea College students manage to study abroad? EKU sends, on average, 75 students out of the 16,000 enrolled (half as much as the national average, percentagewise). After asking around, I found that there are two key factors, in my opinion, that allow more Berea students to study abroad. Numerous scholarships are available, enough to cover a large portion of one’s traveling expenses. It is also highly encouraged at Berea College. The opportunity to study abroad was a deciding factor in attending Berea for Jessica Holly ’12. Holly studied travel writing and an introductory course in German culture and language in Austria for five weeks through the KIIS program (Kentucky Institution for International Studies). She received two scholarships through the study abroad program at Berea. After Holly’s trip to Austria, she only has a modest government loan to pay back after she graduates. Students who choose to study abroad at EKU may end up paying quite a bit more.
The study abroad program at EKU is unfortunately not sending as many students abroad as it would like to. In fact, there is currently no full-time study abroad staff on board. However, the program hopes to hire their first full time international education director very soon. I got in contact with Michele Gore, director of the study abroad program at EKU. She is also a professor of social work at Eastern. First of all, I admire Ms. Gore tremendously for taking on her two positions. She is doing great work in the study abroad program at EKU, given the limited resources. We both agree, however, that not having full-time study abroad staff limits the program indefinitely. Another factor could be the overall student population. Berea has a higher percentage of “diverse” students, those coming in from other states and countries. A large number of EKU students commute and have work and family responsibilities that prevent them from travelling. The educational budget climate also attributes to the program’s size. Before President Doug Whitlock came into office, international education received almost no attention. The program has come a long way, but still isn’t up to par with other state universities.
So why is Berea sending more students abroad, both percentagewise and in whole numbers? Financial restrictions play a significant role at EKU. The outreach at Berea is stronger. However, I believe the program will grow at EKU once some full-time staff is hired. If you’re looking to study abroad, there are scholarships available. There might not be as many available at EKU, but as Berea College exemplifies, and Ms. Gore said, “you don’t have to be wealthy to study abroad. There are ways to make it happen!”