As deadlines approach for a number of summer and fall study abroad programs, East Carolina University staff and students reflect upon the educational opportunities and experiences offered by going abroad.
Erin Taylor, ECU education abroad coordinator, said the Global Affairs Office offers three different types of study abroad programs for students.
“The first type we offer are faculty-led programs which involve traveling abroad with a group of students led by a professor,” Taylor said. “Students are most of the time able to take ECU classes. Those trips are typically over the summer. However, there are quite a few programs that are also offered over spring break.”
The second and third option, Taylor said, is studying abroad for one semester or one whole school year. She said this option is split in two different categories: the experience can either be done in the form of an exchange program or a direct program.
With an exchange program, Taylor said students pay the tuition costs they would normally pay to study at ECU and then can go abroad for one full semester.
“With the direct program, this is where the students enroll at the university of their choice abroad,” Taylor said. “The only big difference between an exchange or a direct program is that you get to pay the host institution's fees. Those are typically most popular for out-of-state students because it gives them the opportunity to kind of play around with a lower tuition rate.”
All students, no matter their major, are eligible to study abroad, Taylor said. She said there are different programs available for each year.
In order to study abroad though, Taylor said a few eligibility requirements are required by ECU.
“A student needs to have completed 24 hours of credits prior to going abroad which usually equals to their first year of college if they haven’t brought in any transferred credits,” Taylor said. “But that doesn’t mean freshmen can’t study abroad. Our Tuscany, Italy program allows students to receive foreign education without having to complete those 24 credit hours before.”
The Tuscany, Italy trip is the only program where students can receive credits for their general education requirements, Taylor said. All the other programs generally offer major-specific credits, she said, or credits that can be transferred as electives.
For seniors in their final semester of their studies, Taylor said the ECU Global Affairs Office doesn’t recommend studying overseas anymore. She said there might be a risk of not receiving enough credit or not getting the transcripts translated in time for graduation.
“Apart from undergraduate students, graduate or current international students are also welcome to go abroad to study at another institution,” Taylor said.
The costs for each program vary, Taylor said, and the average costs are between $3,000 and $4,000 for a short-term study abroad. She said some programs even include arts and entertainments such as plays or musicals in the price.
However, Taylor said most of the time the flight isn’t included in the base price with the exception of a few destinations. Normally students book their own flight, she said, and meet their group at an agreed airport.
“Students are given a timeframe when to arrive at the airport of their destination. Then the group will have an airport pickup available. Most of the time though, the students are given suggestions like, ‘Oh, if you're flying out of Raleigh, we recommend this flight, it's the best price that we found will get you there on time,’” Taylor said. “It gives the students ultimate freedom and even the opportunity to stay abroad longer.”
ECU has over 250 different programs that go to more than 65 different countries worldwide, Taylor said. She said every continent offers a program except for Antarctica.
Instead of telling where students can go, Taylor said it’s easier to tell them where they can’t go.
“Even if we don't have a partnership in a location that a student wants to visit, we can help find one,” Taylor said. “There are various providers a student could use so that they can go to their dream destination.”
For Blair Beaulieu, sophomore nursing major, she said her study abroad took place in Antigua, Guatemala. She said she choose the professor-led program to spend three weeks overseas learning Spanish and doing social work.
Beaulieu said the reason why she chose Guatemala as her destination was because she wanted to combine her passion for nursing with gaining knowledge of a new culture.
“There are not a whole lot of study abroad opportunities for nursing students,” Beaulieu said. “When I saw this program, which is kind of nursing oriented by serving others through community and social work, while learning a new language, I knew I wanted to go.”
During her time in Guatemala, Beaulieu said, she lived with a Spanish speaking host family. She said she couldn’t speak Spanish and therefore didn’t understand what the family said verbally, but still enjoyed the experience a lot.
Beaulieu said taking Spanish lessons in the morning until the early evening every day helped her understand the people and culture of Antigua better. After a couple of days, she said she was able to pick up words and have smaller conversations.
“At the beginning it was a lot harder for me to understand the language,” Beaulieu said. “But I think just knowing the people around me were okay with me not being able to speak their language, made me feel better. It allowed me to experience some things a lot deeper than some of my other classmates because I didn't have that language aspect involved. I would often just listen and watch, but through that I learned so much.”
Beaulieu said the focus of her study abroad program was to assist the study leader’s research on water filters and its usage in Guatemala. She said her group would go outside the big city of Antigua and serve smaller villages around.
Her group also provided access to washcloths and toothbrushes to those who needed them, Beaulieu said.
“We would go up into the mountain tops to visit native villages,” Beaulieu said. “We would just kind of sit there and wait for people to come to us, to see what we were doing. We had a doctor there who was native to Guatemala, and then all of us as nursing students, as well as a professor who's a doctor and we would just provide care to them. So some of the people had never seen a doctor in their life and they were just wanting to be checked on.”
Something Beaulieu said she has taken home from her study abroad is knowing people are from a wide range of different backgrounds with different needs. She said she will be “forever changed, in a positive way” after having lived through these memories.
Abby Mountz, sophomore speech and hearing sciences major, said she will be going on a semester abroad to Tuscany, Italy for three months starting this February. She said she decided to go to Italy when she attended ECU’s Honors Pirate Abroad Admitted Students Day.
“At the event, there was an entire session dedicated to studying abroad and we were able to ask students what their experiences were like,” Mountz said. “I met a girl that had done the ECU Tuscany program and spoke so highly of it. I knew right then and there I needed to do it. I have never left the country before so why not go for an entire semester.”
Mountz said she has been spending a lot of time preparing to go abroad. She said one of her sorority sisters went to Tuscany last spring and she’s been seeking advice from her.
Since her study abroad is coming closer, Mountz said she finished up her last minute shopping and will start packing her luggage now.
“I’ve been taking Italian lessons,” Mountz said. “I’m learning a few basic phrases but I know once I’m there, I will catch phrases more easily. There’s no better way to learn a language than to immerse yourself in it. I have also been watching Italian shows on Netflix, putting on English closed captions. It’s really hard to keep up at times but I think it’s helping me understand more of the culture of Italy rather than just the language.”
Mountz said she is hoping to gain a different perspective on life by going abroad. She said all she has known in her life so far is North Carolina and she has never lived anywhere else.
The only places Mountz has been, she said, were going on vacation to the beach or to Disneyland.
“I’m excited to see everything else that the world has to offer,” Mountz said. ”I’m also looking forward to having 21 new friends from the program. I’m hoping that our group will all get really close and stay friends afterwards. I also want to come back to ECU and be able to influence others to take advantage of this experience.”
ECU has provided her with many “amazing” opportunities, Mountz said, the extensive study abroad being one of them.
Both Blair Beaulieu and Abby Mountz travel blogs can be found on the ECU Global Affairs website along with many other stories from former and current students who went abroad.
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