The long home stretch

How study abroad programs are failing students

With spring term upon us, summer abroad programs are being pushed like travel is going out of style.

How study abroad programs are failing students

With spring term upon us, summer abroad programs are being pushed like travel is going out of style.

With 28 programs in subjects varying from sustainability to business, accessibility to an educational experience should feel within reach of any student, in any course of study. Portland State’s Office of International Affairs has compiled a group of what sounds like formative programs—assuming, of course, the memories make it past Customs.

Any prospective study abroad student should know what awaits them upon returning home—and, amigo, Customs is the least of your worries.

It is embarrassing to see a meticulously packed bag torn apart in Miami International. And although having your hair patted down in Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental is equally unsettling, neither can match the general lack of support displayed by the university.

Most exchange students equate the following months with faking their way through a reverse culture shock far superior to the initial one they’d been so conditioned for. Because study abroad programs at PSU offer few transitional steps when returning back to the States, newly acquired memories and emotions are often fleeting, silenced by university housekeeping.

More transitional assistance upon return to the home country would work to the benefit of PSU.

Many students who go abroad are in the top percentile of the university, a requirement for many programs. If assistance were provided, students would readjust more rapidly, with little academic struggle in the initial term—something that’s commonplace after many study abroad programs.

Transitional assistance would vary from program to program, depending on duration as well as other factors. This could be anything from assistance in petitioning credits and language placement tests, to leading conversation groups, to more lenience around the dates payments are due.

Most focus in a study abroad program falls during the preliminary months—as it should. Locating the right country, program, classes and living arrangements is key.

Resources needed for the months following the return could be borrowed from this plethora of preliminary resources, as there is such a thing as over-planning. Over-planning can be just as paralyzing as no planning at all, and by evenly distributing resources to the before and after, a more beneficial experience could be achieved across the map.

Of course, a well-planned trip would not run into many of the aforementioned hiccups upon the return home. For many students, however, something may happen while abroad that may compromise one thoroughly planned thing or another—life.

Perhaps dismissing the notion that “everything will pan out” is the sacrifice a truly immersed student is willing to make. But if PSU did a few small things to help students before and after their trip, it would make a big difference.

Providing workshops on how to petition credits could be beneficial. In such a deliberately extensive and formal process, even being aware of the proper contacts would be helpful.

Additionally, completion of the College Level Exam Program should be mandatory for returning undergraduates. By passing a CLEP, a student in pursuit of a bachelor’s could test out of 100 and 200 level language requirements. A mandatory field trip to the Center of Student Health and Counseling’s testing services could save undergraduates serious time and money.

Many programs are not in accordance with PSU’s academic calendar, leaving the recently returned student with idle hands until the following term. This is only one case where group discussions could be useful.

There are countless other students who have experienced something similar, and PSU’s responsibility should be to unify this population and facilitate a chat. Though PSU does offer the opportunity to meet and discuss the trip with prospective students during orientation, conversations with study abroad students, both past and present, could be happening more frequently.

The most common regret among study abroad students is paying too much for the program. “The same exact semester program in Costa Rica ranges from $6,000 to more than $10,000, depending on how a participant registers for a program,” said John Slocum, co-founder of the study abroad program AmeriSpan. “In addition, many forget to utilize financial aid or take advantage of study abroad scholarships.”

One important resource, the Gilman Scholarship, is available to U.S. citizens for time abroad. Though it has few restrictions, it does require the program to last at least one month—a requirement only half the short-term summer abroad programs meet.

With involvement in one of these shorter programs, some sort of buffer zone for tuition payments could be in students’ best interests as well.

This could be an additional academic term, or even kindly not putting accounts on hold while financial aid is being tended to. Such a request for additional time to get student accounts back in order is not unrealistic and could also work to the benefit of PSU, as students could focus on academics and IOU’s simultaneously.

These dilemmas will pass—something students will eventually see for themselves upon their return home. And because of the extremely privileged experience these dilemmas are the result of, such grievances are expected to remain inaudible. This lack of awareness and support is responsible for the common, sometimes unpleasant experience of returning home and could easily be prevented.

Many summer abroad programs have due dates that have not yet passed, and others have been extended from the original date, April 9. Though the deadline for summer and fall Gilman Scholarships has come and gone, studying abroad should be considered by any student—from art to economics.

The world is your classroom.