By Susan Farewell
“In the weeks leading up to my semester abroad, people constantly asked me about my trip. Was I excited? Was I scared? I would tell them that I was excited and maybe a little bit nervous, but honestly, I don’t think I fully registered that I was going to India until the morning of my flight,” explains Molly Hubbard, a junior at Middlebury College in Vermont (pictured above on right).
Molly represents a growing number of college students who are choosing to travel further afield for study abroad experiences. Further afield, not only geographically, but culturally.
“I wanted to go somewhere different, experience something new, a new culture, new people, new religion…” she adds. “I also felt that I could travel in Europe relatively easily as an adult or sometime later in life, but India is less accessible.”
Molly’s older brother Ben Hubbard (right) had also studied abroad—spending the fall of his sophomore year away from Muhlenberg College, in Turkey. He too, was seeking something different. “I wanted to be thrown into a country that would expand my comfort zone, views of places around the world, and become immersed in an Islamic culture.”
Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Argentina and South Africa are among some of the other destinations the students we spoke to for this article had studied in, in addition to many of the long-time European and Australian favorites.
Not only are students heading overseas to less traditional study abroad destinations, but many are also seeking out opportunities to live with families and blend into (as much as possible) the local communities. Some are studying at foreign universities with just a handful—if any—of other Americans.
“I think college students are choosing to go further afield to explore new destinations, to get off the beaten track for a variety of reasons,” explains Dr. Jessie Voigts, publisher of WanderingEducators.com. “In the ever-smaller world that the internet provides us, there are fewer and fewer destinations that we know nothing about. “
Brett Berquist, Executive Director at Michigan State University’s Office of Study Abroad agrees that many students are looking beyond Europe for experiences to meet their learning goals. “For some, this is in search of experiences that offer the best value for their money, as Europe continues to be a pricey destination. For others, an experience is a developing country fits their goals and quest to understand the world better.”
Thailand Today, France Tomorrow
Not only are students going further abroad, but more and more are doing multiple study abroad programs—sometimes for very short periods of time. And in addition to the traditional college semester or year abroad, they’re studying abroad as early as high school and after college--in graduate school and before starting out in the working world.
Before going to India as a college student, Molly Hubbard had studied in Jordan for a six-week-long exchange student program in high school. Ben Hubbard traveled to Bangladesh to study climate change for three weeks with a class during his senior year of college.
Erin Levi, a NY-based travel publicist (left), divided her year abroad, spending half of it in Vietnam and the other half in Italy. For her masters degree (in Middle East and Central Asian Security Studies), she studied at St. Andrews in Scotland, and from there, spent a month in Uzbekistan. Why Uzbekistan? She replied, “To learn Uzbek in Scotland is not so easy.”
Short visits can be very worthwhile, explains Brooke Roberts who is a senior VP at Goabroad.com and who runs her own blog, Insidestudyabroad.com. “ While the longer you are there, the better the growth experience will be, it’s really the first few weeks on the ground that are the most impactful.”
Many of the students who are choosing to study in very foreign cultures are pursuing professions in emerging and growing areas such as environmental policy, global health and human rights and peace, security and conflict issues. They are also learning languages that are beyond the traditionally obvious ones for American students—such as Hindi, Arabic and, as mentioned…Uzbek.
“By studying in more remote or non-traditional locations, students will definitely have a leg up in some professions,” explains Dr. Voigts. “…including international relations and politics, global psychology, music, languages and teaching. They will have a deeper understanding of cultures that are very different from their own, which will impact their world view in a greater way than by studying in similar cultures.”
A couple of students we spoke to have recently graduated and are further fattening up their global resumes with more foreign experiences. Christina Tabacco, a University of California Santa Barbara student (right), spent a semester of her junior year in Cape Town, South Africa. She has since graduated and is now preparing to return to Africa, this time Botswana, to participate in a 55-day-long program on safari guiding before going to law school. “I’ve been dreaming about doing it since I went on safari in South Africa,” she explains. Ben Hubbard is in Kenya, working as an intern for Global Vision International. He recently finished weeks of training and is about to be placed with KESCOM, a Sea Turtle Conservation collection of CBO’s (Community Based Organizations).
Can We Come Too?
While their children are jetting off to the far reaches of the world, many parents are making sure their own passports are current. Meeting their child for break is the perfect excuse for a trip and a vacation unlike any others. Christina Tabacco’s parents were able to see Cape Town almost as if residents. “You end up doing things you otherwise wouldn’t do because your child is a student there,” explains her mother, Peggy Schmidt. “We rented an apartment in Camps Bay and went to all of Christina’s favorite restaurants. We also got to watch her play soccer, because she joined the University of Cape Town women’s team. It was very exciting watching…there were young women from four or five different African countries.” While in the country, the Tabacco-Schmidt family went on safari with their daughter, visiting Kruger National Park.
Becca Hensley, an Austin, Texas-based travel writer was able to do a “quickie girl trip” to London with her daughter, Lizzy Williams, before taking the train to Vienna to drop her off for a year-long study abroad program. She then returned with the rest of her family and they all spent Christmas together, enjoying the Viennese Christmas markets, the music and pastries.
Some families are multi-generational study abroaders. Lynn Schnurnberger, one of our contributors, recently visited her daughter Alliana Semjen in Florence with her husband Martin. “Martin had been an architecture student in Florence 32 years ago so he felt like he was passing the baton,” she explains. “The minute we knew Alliana had been accepted, we started planning our trip. Three and a half months is a long time to have your only child away from home, abroad, but knowing we would visit her in Italy certainly softened the blow!” Lynn adds that “It was amazing to have our 20-year-old daughter as a tour guide. She planned our entire trip, taking us to the leather market, her favorite restaurants, picking out our wines at dinner (she's "legal" in Italy, and one of her courses was in food and wine.)"
Patricia Hubbard arranged to meet her daughter Molly as she was returning from India—for a week in Paris. “It was just perfect --mother/daughter time,” she says. Asked if she worried about having both her children traveling so far, she responded, “It’s a global world and they want to be part of it. I'm thrilled for them!"
Photos: From top down--Molly Hubbard (right) with friend Nina Roumell at the Changing of the Guard at the Pakistan-India border. Ben Hubbard on a ferry in the Turkish port of Bodrum. Erin Levi posing as a Uzbek bride at Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Christina Tabacco on an elephant at Camp Jabulani in South Africa. Alliana Semjen with parents, Lynn Schnurnberger and Martin Semjen, in front of St. Peter's in Rome.