Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
November 6, 1998

Study abroad becoming essential college experience

by Kevin Brown

Increasingly, today's students are looking beyond the borders of Iowa State's campus to round out their educations. Students are traveling to Singapore, Australia, Slovakia, Scotland and a myriad of other places, making friends, learning the culture and gaining valuable experiences.

Trevor Nelson, program coordinator of the Study Abroad Center, has seen a dramatic increase in the number of students taking advantage of numerous international exchanges, study programs and internships.

In fiscal year 1995, 280 students went abroad through ISU programs. In the year that ended June 30, 643 students took advantage of the programs, and more than 800 are expected to go overseas this year.

To keep the programs as affordable as possible, Iowa State is bolstering study abroad programs with more scholarship dollars, tuition reimbursement and financial aid options.

Growing globalization of society has spurred business interest in students who have studied abroad or who have mastered languages beyond English, Nelson said.

Much of the interest in the study abroad program is spread through word of mouth, he added.

"These students come back excited and they convey that to their friends," Nelson said. He added that faculty play a strong role in directing students toward international programs.

While most students tend to choose the United Kingdom as their destination, Nelson recently has noticed a movement to non-Western European locations. Three years ago, only 25 percent of study abroad students went to school outside of Europe. Today, almost half of all students who study abroad attend schools in non-Western European countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Kenya and countries formerly in the Soviet bloc.

The ultimate benefit to students is job market desirability and personal fulfillment, Nelson said.

"These can be life-changing experiences for students and become the highlight of their college careers," he said. "And tolerance and the ability to enjoy cultural diversity is a desirable trait today in the global marketplace. Students with abilities in second- and third-languages are in great demand by business."

What students say about their travel experiences

Julie Tritz, alumna '94, '97, agriculture

Julie Tritz was able to take her ISU education and study abroad experience and parlay it into a career here. Tritz is a project coordinator with the Midwest Agribusiness Trade Research and Information Center at Iowa State. MATRIC provides technical assistance to medium-sized ag businesses seeking to do business overseas.

Tritz studied abroad in Slovakia at the University of Agriculture, Nitra, in 1994. She said she was one of two ISU students studying agronomy there.

"We took very specialized courses," she said. "We took about 15 credit hours, including Slovak; dairy milk production, where I sat in on lectures that friends would interpret and translate for me; agricultural law (Russian) and management. Most of my classes were like tutorials -- one-on-one with an English-speaking faculty member."

She said she made a number of new friends, many of whom she hopes to keep all her life. She still refers to a daughter of her host family as her sister.

Tritz said her experience in Slovakia was so strong that she returned to the country and taught English as a second language in Nitra.

"I just wanted to live in Europe," she said. "You immerse yourself in your host country and you come to know the people and their culture."

Even though most homeowners have refrigerators, many still use balconies to chill food.

"I even used my balcony to refrigerate food when I lived there. Everyone does," she said.

Tritz said most residents can speak English and are quite eager to practice it. But, she said, she had to explain Iowa to them.

"They knew about Chicago, but they didn't know about Iowa."

Many in that country consider Americans lazy about language. There, she said, most people speak two or three languages.

But Americanization was coming even to Slovakia.

"In 1991, in Prague, there were only four McDonalds. Today, in the Czech Republic, there are 44 McDonalds. CNN is there, as is Dallas and Beverly Hills 90210."

Wade Demmer, junior, computer engineering

Australia was a homecoming for Wade Demmer, who spent most of his life in Buffalo, Minn. He was born and lived in Australia until he was 4 years old. He took advantage of Iowa State's study abroad program to attend the University of Newcastle for six months.

He said he carried 12 credit hours but had classes only two days a week. "I had a lot of time to walk around and familiarize myself with Newcastle," he said.

There were relatively few cultural differences, he said.

"There aren't a lot of real striking ones. There's McDonald's. X-Files and Friends are two of their top-rated TV shows. They can quote from The Simpsons without thinking. They tend to teeter between the British influence (older generation) and the American (younger) influence," Demmer observed.

He said he had the choice of staying in a dorm that was largely foreign exchange students, or one that was mostly Australian students.

"I chose the one that was mostly Australian," Demmer said. "I wanted to get more of an Australian experience meet as many new people as I could."

He said his biggest problem was dealing with the image the United States portrays of itself abroad.

"For example, when I told people I was an American, they said, 'Oh, you're a Sepo.'" Demmer said. "That is something slang from 'septic' that describes Americans. They think we are all gun-toting lunatics who kill each other. It's how we portray ourselves on TV.

"They were judging me based on Melrose Place. And the news reports are about Americans killing Americans. I took a bit of criticism they think we bully people around."

Demmer said he might consider another, non-English speaking country experience, perhaps in China, Japan or a former Soviet bloc nation.

"The biggest thing that travel abroad builds is confidence in your own abilities," he said. "You have to stick with it and you will succeed. You'll end up being a better person for the experience."

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