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Opinion

International programs offer students unmatched opportunity

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September 18, 2009

If you’ve taken a language course at UW-River Falls, you have undoubtedly heard about some of the opportunities students have to study in foreign countries. If you haven’t heard about them, you’ve probably been living under a rock for your entire college career. I think that scenario deserves its own column, so I’ll move on with my thought.

I’m not going to say it’s easy to study abroad; it takes planning. You can’t just show up at the Global Connections office two weeks before a program and expect to go on it. The planning process should start at least the semester before you plan to travel—the earlier, the better.

Don’t get me wrong; preparing to go abroad isn’t rocket science. If you meet the requirements to apply for the program and get started early, you shouldn’t have any trouble.

Obviously one concern is financing. What you may not know is that there are plenty of scholarships, grants and loans available—some of which are designated solely for students studying abroad. For me, college seemed like the perfect time to travel because after this, I am going to be working in the “real world” and probably won’t have time to dedicate to a trip like that. Also, financial aid is often only available to full-time college students. When would I have the money to fly to and live in Europe for four months?

I think it was back in junior high school when I saw the movie “Chasing Liberty.” It stars Mandy Moore, whose dad just happens to be the President of the United States. While in Prague for daddy’s business meeting, she decides to run off with a friend and backpack her way to Berlin. I know this movie might sound lame, but that’s when I first fell in love with the idea of traveling throughout Europe.

After many botched attempts to convince my mother a recent high school graduate is mature enough to backpack the continent with her best friend, I set my eyes on studying abroad in college.

I’ve taken French courses for years now, so it wasn’t a hard decision for me to pick France for my destination.

I went on the Abbey program through the University of Southern Mississippi (UWRF is part of the program’s consortium). Though it was based in a small town in the Loire Valley, I still got to travel to my heart’s content.

Because classes are only held Monday through Thursday, students have the opportunity to travel long weekends. There is also a two-week study break and a week spent in Paris learning about the city’s past. I traveled to six countries in all: France, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands—all while successfully maintaining a full credit load’s worth of coursework.

My study abroad experience was entirely amazing. I have so many stories about my travels. Some of those are good, some frustrating, but all helped make the person I am now. Yes, I know it’s totally cheesy and probably cliché, but the time I spent in Europe last spring matured me and made me feel ready to tackle anything. When it came time for me to choose one of the internships I had been offered in the journalism field, I chose one in Madison, Wis. I have no family there, no ties to the city and only one friend. I just couldn’t go back to living in my hometown after being so used to living in unfamiliar cities.

Studying abroad can not only give students an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have to see the world, but they can also help shape students’ futures.

Alayne Hockman is a student at UW-River Falls.