Get out of town

Wrestling a Mongolian warrior, finding a home with Thai Buddhists and exploring Dracula’s castle in Romania are among the many experiences Portland State students say were unforgettable highlights of their study abroad trips.

Wrestling a Mongolian warrior, finding a home with Thai Buddhists and exploring Dracula’s castle in Romania are among the many experiences Portland State students say were unforgettable highlights of their study abroad trips.

Their stories, as told on the Web site for Portland State’s Office of International Affairs, cover nearly all areas of the globe and are just some of the tales from the 450 to 500 PSU students who study overseas every year.

One student, whose name was not given, called his year in China “the best decision of my life.”

Study abroad is a foreign education program that has evolved in recent decades from standardized travels through European countries to learn a foreign language into a near-limitless exploration of any region for any study program and for any length of time.

Students can supplement their local education by earning credits, which can fulfill university requirements, through studies at another university in nearly any country of their choosing.

“It’s gone beyond the traditional understanding of going to France and learning French. It’s really become a question of what country or region are you interested in, and what do you want to do when you get there,” said Todd Waddell, coordinator for faculty-led programs in the Office of International Affairs.

Waddell recommended the program for students who want to “escape their comfort zone and challenge all of their assumptions,” as well as bolster their education by imbedding themselves in a place where the cultural norms are vastly different than our own.

Who is eligible?

Study abroad is open to all Portland State University sophomores, juniors and seniors, but not all students will necessarily be accepted into the program.

Students must apply to enter the program of their choosing, generally about six months before they intend to study abroad, and “in most cases students with good academic records, strong references and solid purpose statements are successful candidates in their desired program,” according to the Office of International Affairs Web site.

But programs vary in competitiveness, meaning grades could play a significant role in eligibility if a student is considering a popular destination.

Graduate and post-bac students are also eligible, but course offerings that reflect their particular area of study may be limited. The Office of International Affairs Web site recommends these students consider an international internship that could give them graduate credit.

Students abroad generally study language, culture and social sciences, but science and business majors have grown in popularity, according to the Office of International Affairs Web site.

Course offerings extend beyond these areas of study, however, and are usually listed in brochures or the Web site of a given program.

Trips abroad can be anywhere from two weeks to a calendar year, and summer studies that range from two weeks to eight weeks are also available.


Some students express concern that studying abroad will take a toll on a bank account already suffering from the cost of college, but studying abroad isn’t always a significantly more expensive endeavor than staying local.

It can cost more, but the money needed varies depending on length of time, where a student is traveling, living expenses and other requirements of the program.

For information about cost, see the available programs at A drop-down menu allows students to review nearly any combination of study, including region, length of time and area of study.

Students often use scholarships to subsidize the cost of the program. If a student is already receiving a scholarship, the money from it can be put toward studying abroad.

Only one scholarship, the WUE, cannot be used for studying abroad, according to the Office of International Affairs.

Scholarships and grants specific to study abroad programs are granted regularly. For information about these, visit

Financial aid that a student that is normally eligible for local studies can be used to travel overseas. Even a credit card can be used for foreign studies.

Experiencing Foreign Culture

Waddell said students that study abroad generally return with a new perspective on life that can be gained through few other means.

“What we often hear from students when they come back to the United States is that they look at the United States in an entirely different way. That they realize the world is a very diverse place,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean [other cultures] are better or worse, but that there are different ways to interpret what we consider standard,” he added.

According to the Office of International Affairs, studying abroad extends beyond the cultural experience and looking at life in a different light. It’s a means to learn a new language from the source, gain skills and make lifelong friendships.

It can also give students a competitive edge in the marketplace by “increasing your skills in cross-cultural communication, international knowledge, adaptability, and resilience in an increasingly global economy.”

To learn more about study abroad, schedule an appointment with an education advisor by calling 503-725-4094, e-mailing [email protected] or by attending weekly information sessions from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays in room 211 of East Hall.

Waddell recommends that students from all walks of life take the opportunity while it’s available.

“What study abroad does is allows students to get outside of their classroom—outside of their comfort zone—and challenge all of their assumptions by going to a different country and seeing what the cultural norms are, how people in that country interpret the actions of us or American culture, how their lifestyles differ from what we consider to be normal,” Waddell said.

“So study abroad becomes a laboratory for evaluating everything else you learn in your education,” he said.