Last semester, senior Amanda DiLauro wasn’t just hitting the books. In May, she was two hours off the eastern coast of Australia, scuba diving for the first time on the Great Barrier Reef.
“I learned more about myself, about life, about the world on that trip than I could ever read in any textbook that my professors give me, and I stand by it,” she said.
DiLauro studied abroad with the college’s Walkabout Down Under program last spring, an experience that she said changed her views of foreign — as well as American — cultures.
Like DiLauro, other students participating in study abroad programs run by the college said much of the focus wasn’t on traditional academics, but on cultural understanding and world experiences.
“I’m from Manhattan so I’m really used to city hustle and bustle,” she said. “Just to see a society where none of that mattered and [where] they were happier than any New Yorker I’d ever seen really affected how I view the world.”
DiLauro was one of 285 Ithaca College students who studied abroad in Spring 2007. This fall, 94 students are enrolled in programs abroad. In the 2004–05 academic year, about 200,000 American students studied abroad — less than one percent of all students enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions.
In 2006, the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program, a panel appointed by Congress and President George W. Bush, proposed that the U.S. aims to send one million college students abroad each year by 2016 — a figure that would be a 400 percent increase from current numbers. In June, the House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing funding toward that goal.
Students can study virtually anywhere in the world, Rachel Cullenen, associate director of international programs, said. In addition to domestic internship-
centered programs in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., students can study at the college’s satellite campus in London or tour Australia with the Walkabout Down Under program, which is scheduled to end after Spring 2008.
“They can take coursework that’s going to be more informative about the culture in which they’re studying,” Cullenen said. “If you can go abroad and take courses in art history and civilization and language and culture and things like that, you’re going to be learning a lot more about the culture.”
Junior Andrew Zivic, who studied at the Ithaca College London Center in Spring 2007, said his main objective was to see the world, not sit in a classroom.
During his time away from Ithaca College, Zivic traveled almost every weekend, visiting cities in seven different countries, including France, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic and Spain.
“I learned more about myself and more about other cultures and the world than I ever could have in any other class,” Zivic said. “As a history major, I got to see all the things I’ve been learning about for two years. That to me was a lot more important than some random class you sit in for three hours.”
In September 2007, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported study abroad directors want students to adopt a more intense set of goals while abroad. This includes taking more academically rigorous classes, improving foreign-language fluency and becoming economically conscious global citizens.
A report published by the Institute of International Education in May 2007 said academic leaders and government officials are concerned with the increased risks to America’s national security, economic competitiveness and global leadership if the current generation of students fails to study abroad.
The report also said more than half a million international students study abroad in the United States each year, and more than two million study outside their home countries.
Last year, senior Matt Pascua spent both semesters away from campus. Pascua went to Tibet, India and Nepal through a School for International Training program in the fall and enrolled in the college’s Los Angeles program during the spring.
Pascua said originally he wanted to go to college in a city — particularly Los Angeles. He said the L.A. program was part of the reason he applied to the college. Semesters abroad present personal challenges as well as work experience.
“Just going off campus takes you out of your comfort zone,” Pascua said. “To remove yourself from that is still a challenge, even going out to L.A. or D.C. and then adding the factor that you’re working in this incredibly professional environment.”
Senior Mary Schaefer studied with the Walkabout Down Under program. She said though study abroad may lack emphasis on learning inside the classroom, learning outside the classroom is the main reason for going abroad.
Schaefer said the academic demands of her semester in Australia were “way less” than the demands at Ithaca College, though her friends have experienced “tough semesters” in other foreign countries. She stressed the value of deviating from the academic standard held here in the United States.
“I didn’t feel like it was a ‘blow-off’ semester just because we weren’t learning inside the classroom,” Schaefer said. “One professor … came to our apartment before we could walk to the school and said, ‘we’re going on a hike, get your stuff on.’ You never get that here.”
But Ithaca College students don’t always experience easy semesters abroad.
Zivic said while he was abroad he earned the lowest GPA he’d received. He said there is a difference in grading systems, and in European academia, America is considered to have grade inflation.
“They think our teachers just hand out A’s,” he said. “You’d better do really good work [over there] if you expect to get an A.”
Zivic said semesters abroad should be valued for their hands-on approach as opposed to their academic structure.
“It’s something you should do as a break from the structure, to see how other cultures do it,” he said. “We’re basically told in America, ‘you go to school, this is what you do, you study, get good grades.’ But that eventually wears you out.”
Senior Jacob Ritley, who spent the Fall 2006 semester at La Trobe University in Australia, spent a month backpacking New Zealand and said if he had the chance to go again, he would strictly travel and not attend school.
“The whole point of studying abroad is to be abroad,” Ritley said. “It’s meeting new people, discovering new cultures … not homework.”