Students prefer short-term study abroad options as semester programs decline in popularity

From left to right, Alex Voloshen, Libby Gayer and Michael Gerber pose for a photo during a semester-long study abroad program in Grenoble, France, in Spring 2016. (Photo contributed by Libby Gayer)

More Ohio University students are opting to study abroad for shorter periods of time rather than spending a semester in another country.

OU’s Office of Global Opportunities reported a decline in semester-long study abroad program enrollment. That decline is reflective of a nationwide trend, according to research conducted by the Institute of International Education.

During the 2013-14 academic year, 792 OU students studied abroad with 21 percent going on a long-term trip. During the 2014-15 academic year, 1,031 OU students studied abroad. Of those students, 17 percent were enrolled in long-term experiences.

OU offers two fall semester programs. One in Ecuador did not have enough students this year. One spring program, French language and culture in Grenoble, has already been canceled because of low enrollment.

Libby Gayer, a sophomore studying French and psychology, spent four and a half months last year studying through that program.

“It’s too bad because it was a great program, and I got a lot out of it, not only as a French major, but as a person,” Gayer said.

As for the other university-affiliated Spring Semester programs, the Office of Global Opportunities is not expecting any more cancellations but will not know for sure until programs are finalized, Catherine Marshall, the director of Global Opportunities, said.

A possible reason for the downward trend in semester programs could be the increase of short-term study abroad opportunities, Marshall said. OU has seen a decrease in longer-term programs since the switch from the quarter system to semesters in 2012.

Quarter programs offered a happy medium for students who wanted to study abroad longer than winter or spring break, Marshall said. In addition, it can be difficult for some students to fit a whole semester abroad into their schedules without delaying sequential classes needed for their majors, Marshall said, which makes winter and spring break options more feasible.

“If (students are) well-prepared and are thoughtful about where they’re going, they can have a really enriching experience in a week,” Marshall said. “Having that exposure and that learning experience and that cross-cultural experience — there is great value in that, regardless of the length.”

Although winter and spring breaks are good alternatives for students who do not have the time to study abroad for a semester, long-term trips have something different to offer, Marshall said.

“One of the really great things that happens on a longer term study abroad is you’re not a tourist or even a traveler,” Marshall said. “You’re an inhabitant.”

Semester programs are the best deal in terms of cost because classes abroad are included in tuition, Marshall said. The fixed costs, like a plane ticket and passport, are the same for short-term programs and semester programs, but students staying abroad longer are getting the most out of their money, Marshall said.

Because of the value he saw in long-term study abroad, Spanish lecturer Keith Woodall resurrected a semester-long program in Toledo, Spain, that was cancelled because of low student enrollment after the switch from quarters to semesters.

“Our department is very proud of this and our track record in having students study abroad,” Woodall said. “(The program) is quite possibly the most fulfilling and the most important thing I’m going to accomplish.”

After Woodall spoke to 32 Spanish classes, about 35 students completed an application — more than enough to meet the quota of 10 students needed for a program to actually happen.

Marshall said she encourages students to take advantage of any student abroad opportunity, regardless of length.

“No matter when you go abroad or the duration of your time, participating in a global opportunity is a really great way to enhance your degree, to figure out who you are, build your resume and see another part of the world,” Marshall said. “There’s a lot of value in having these experiences.”


Originally published for The Post on October 6, 2016.


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