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Studying Abroad: Debunking the Myths

Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office

Throughout my time at the University of Illinois, I have encountered a few well-known rumors that relate to the study abroad process. I have heard people often say, “Well, studying abroad is just too expensive,” or the ever-popular, “Study abroad is a blow-off semester,”  and my personal favorite, “I just don’t have time to study abroad.” Those that believe these fallacies do not know of the multitude of resources regarding study abroad that are offered on the Illinois campus. Now, it’s time to shed some light on these topics and put these rumors to rest. I’m here to debunk these popular myths and reassure you that not only is study abroad a unique experience, but also a worthwhile and fruitful investment for your life and your future.

Myth #1: Studying Abroad Is Too Expensive 

It’s no secret that attending a four-year university is an expensive period in a person’s life. Tuition costs are on the rise, and many of us get buried under the pile of student loans after graduation, however studying abroad doesn’t add to this cost — it can actually reduce it. That’s right! Studying abroad can actually SAVE you tuition money. Who would have thought? The Illinois Study Abroad Office offers a myriad of programs that are either comparable or less than a semester or year’s tuition at U of I and similar in academic standards. During my study abroad semester in Uppsala, Sweden, I saved my parents $15,000 in the six months that I was there. These savings were not due to the fact that I was “living frugally,”  because trust me, I went all out, but they were simply because I had found a suitable program for my budget. Overall, my study abroad experience was less than $8,000. You too, can save this much while studying abroad. In addition, not only does the Study Abroad Office offer low-cost programs but they award more than $850,000 in scholarships every year. One in four students gets the I4I scholarship to study abroad. What if you receive financial aid? No problem! in most cases, your financial aid can cover the costs of your study abroad experience. To find out more, visit the financial aid office to discuss, stop by the Resource Room (112 International Studies Building) to get a list of our low-cost program options and to find out about scholarships and financial aid click here.

Myth #2: Studying Abroad Is Just A Blow-Off Semester 

Exciting adventures? Check. Exposure to a different and exciting culture? Check. Major/minor, gen-ed credit? Check. The study abroad programs that the University of Illinois offers have not only been vetted by an academic committee for rigor, but offer courses across all majors and academic disciplines. So not only can you take courses in your major for academic credit, but also electives and general education requirements. Some of the programs are so convenient, that I have known friends and acquaintances who have taken courses abroad and finished an entire minor! There are an array of opportunities which allow you the academic freedom to take the courses that suit your needs. Academics are the most important part of STUDYing abroad, so take advantage of the opportunities offered. Interested in seeing what other students have taken and the type of Illinois credit they’ve received? Check out our Course Approval Database here for more information.

Myth #3: I Don’t Have Time To Study Abroad 

The most popular myth by far, is that of not having enough time to engage in a study abroad experience. As students, we are all busy. From studying for classes, preparing for future careers or internships, working and staying involved on campus some may think that time to go abroad is nonexistent. However, when considering studying abroad, it’s important to note that there are specific programs that can fit your tight schedule. Whether your schedule is extremely constricted, such as that of education majors, or if you have strict on-campus course requirements, there are still opportunities out there for you! The study abroad office offers programs with varying lengths of time. From our Faculty-Led Winter Break and Summer Break options (2-4 weeks), to regular summer programs (4-6 weeks), fall and spring semester options, and academic year programs, rest assured that you can fit studying abroad into your college curriculum. All of these programs offer enriching experiences to help you discover a whole new world (literally!).

So, before you write off studying abroad as an experience you can’t afford, an experience you will not receive academic credit for, or as an experience you won’t have time for, come speak to one of our Program Assistants at the Resource Room (112 International Studies Building). Not only are PAs equipped to provide you with all of the information regarding study abroad programs but also in assisting you in during your search to find one that will most adequately fit your needs. Consider the benefits that studying abroad can offer you! An experience like this is one which you will not find after exiting academia, so take advantage of the future doors it may open and the people you could meet while exploring a new culture or learning a new language. Remember, Illini Go Places! Visit studyabroad.illinois.edu for more information.

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Exchange Program Spotlight: Quito, Ecuador

Guest Blogger: Zana Darwish

Located in the capital city of Ecuador, the SAO Exchange program at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito has a lot to offer students looking to study abroad. Known as the City of Eternal Spring, Quito is just south of the equator and located in an Andean valley surrounded by mountainous peaks. Otavalo Market, Pleasant Radford, ECUThe city offers a unique blend of modern practices and old world traditions. Most notably is the historical center or ‘old town,’ that is defined by its colonial splendor and indigenous character. Similarly, Quito offers a wide range of activities that appeal to all types of students. You can grab a meal in Otavalo Market, go river rafting, hike one of the surrounding mountains, or participate on a city tour.

 

The program includes four excursions that are planned for the students, giving them a chance to explore the country of Ecuador while abroad. The excursions include day trips to surrounding lakes and nature areas, a trip to the Papallacta hot springs, and a weekend trip to the pristine tropical rainforest, Puerto Quito. Transportation, housing, and meals on these excursions are already covered in the program fees, so students can travel and explore in ease.

Quilotoa Group pic

 

The program at Universidad San Francisco de Quito is direct enroll, meaning the students participating on this program can take any class available at the university. This gives University of Illinois students the opportunity to interact with other international and Ecuadorian students in their classes. A majority of the classes offered aretaught in Spanish, thus making this program a great fit for student looking to get credit for Spanish classes abroad. This program also offers unique opportunities for students to get involved volunteering within the Ecuadorian community. Volunteer projects students have participated on in the past include: environmental protection, women’s shelters, orphanages, public schools and hospitals.

service learning group, ECU

With so many unique experiences to offer students, Universidad San Francisco de Quito may be the best place for you to live, explore, and develop via cultural immersion and stimulating academia. For more information on this program go to Quito Program Page or come in a talk to a Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office!

 

Plan for a Life of Travel: Explorers Travel Program for Alumni

Guest Blogger: Alissa Dappas

After studying abroad or spending any time overseas, it’s safe to say that most travelers come back home itching topack up once again and head out for another adventure.  I know this is certainly my situation.  I have now been back in the United States for nearly a year, and I daydream constantly of the next places I want to visit and explore.

Sorrento-LemonFarm_98548f0c606a_300dpi Although I (like most people) desire to travel again, it has become apparent that planning an overseas educational trip in an organized and well-budgeted way is easier said than done.  With graduation approaching and no time left to study abroad for a second time, I thought my chances to travel in an educational type setting were long gone.  Fortunately, I’ve recently learned about an opportunity for University of Illinois alumni that allows you to travel with fellow Illinois graduates, and like study abroad, learn something about the places you travel to. Through the University of Illinois Alumni Association Explorers Travel Program, you can relive aspects of your study abroad experience in new locations, or for those of you have not studied abroad before, now is your chance to take your Illini pride overseas!

See What you can cook up, traveling with fellow alumns

See What you can cook up, traveling with fellow alumni

As the graduation date approaches, I’m sure most seniors are constantly being asked, “So what’s next?” As terrifying as this question may be, there are different ways to go about giving an answer. Of course, the expected answers explain a summary of an upcoming job placement or potentially attending graduate school. As exciting as these things may be, don’t forget to talk about grander plans. IMG_0298-1What else will you do with your life post college years? Travel, perhaps? As an Illinois graduate, the Explorers alumni tour program is perfect for you! There is no certain age to participate, you can convince your friends to go with you while meeting fellow University of Illiniois alumni, the planning is done for you and prices are very reasonable. With diverse location options (Europe, Asia, Africa and more!), programs that offer educational components (recommended reading lists, guest lectures, professional tour guides, etc.), and comfortable stays in 4-5 star hotels, it will feel like an adult version of studying abroad. With 50-60 trips a year, there is something for everyone. Listed below are just a few examples of some upcoming travels! For more information, please visit http://www.uiaa.org/explorers/.

  • Croatia’s Adriatic Coast

o   Educational themes: Contemporary Croatia, Seafaring History, and Epicurean Croatia o   Dates: June 2nd-14th o   Cost: starting at $3,695

  • Ireland

o   Educational themes: Irish music and Dance, the history of Ireland and County Clare, Irish Seanchai, and Finding Your Irish Roots o   Dates: June 22nd-July 2nd o   Cost: starting at $3,295

  • Paris Immersion Program

o   Educational themes: Paris and its art, architecture, culture, cuisine, and history o   Dates: August 20th-September 4th o   Cost: starting at $3,995

  • Undiscovered Apulia, Italy

o   Educational themes: Italy’s Deep South, Lecce and Ostuni’s Architectural History, and Italy and Apulia today o   Dates: September 23rd-October 1st o   Cost: starting at $2,395

  • Machu Picchu

o   Educational themes: History and traditions of the Peruvian Andes, from Cusco to the Sacred Valley, and finally Machu Picchu o   Dates: November 1st-6th o   Cost: starting at $2,995

 

Overcoming and Learning from Challenges Abroad

Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez 

Before leaving for my study abroad journey to Sweden, I was feeling like any other student: excited for the new adventures and yet a little nervous for what was to come. My itinerary had two connections, the latter was at Heathrow Airport in London, U.K. After landing at Heathrow, I would take a direct flight to Stockholm which would finally deliver me to my host country. But, things didn’t go exactly as planned.

We landed early in the morning in London, and I woke to see the airport runways covered with snow. I could sense the panic in the travelers around me. Something was definitely wrong. I exited the plane and hurried through to find my gate, but once I arrived I was told that ALL European connecting flights were cancelled. This meant that over 400 flights were scrapped because of one fluffy inch of snow. It was unbelievable!

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At this moment, I knew that I would have to face this unexpected challenge head on. I found an airport agent who told me I had to go to the 5th floor re-booking center so I could be put on a new flight. When I got there, I was astonished. There were hundreds of people waiting in line, and the line wrapped around the entire floor.

Then, I remembered some words I was told during my Study Abroad Pre-Departure orientation: “things may not always turn out as planned, but you can do your best to have a rewarding experience while abroad.” This motivated me, and I got in line, hoping for the chance to get on a flight to Sweden.

The day passed slowly, and it was nearing closing hours. I was one person away from the front of the line when it was announced that the re-booking center would be closing until 5am the next morning. I was extremely disappointed, but I had to look at the bright side of things. The airline provided me and fellow passengers with mats and blankets, dinner, and free internet, so I took the opportunity to contact my family via Skype. Hearing their comforting words helped me renew my self confidence.

Despite the circumstances, I encouraged myself and I had a certain faith that I would be in Sweden the next morning. Night passed quickly, and by 8am I was finally re-booked on a flight directly to Stockholm. I made it to the Stockholm airport just in time to catch a bus to the Uppsala city center. There, I randomly met two other Danish exchange students who showed me around and took me to the housing office where I picked up the keys to my room.

Upon my arrival, I had a moment of realization. I had the opportunity to live in a different country and experience its language and culture to the fullest. After two long days, and countless hours of jet lag, I was finally in Uppsala and I was finally studying abroad.

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Now, I look back on those first two days and feel grateful. Though the circumstances weren’t ideal, they taught me that if I could overcome those challenges and uncertainties, I could tackle anything my study abroad semester threw at me.

Perseverance, confidence and support through uncertainty are important qualities that are developed and reinforced while studying abroad. Now, I am always confident that no matter what flight gets cancelled, or where I have to spend the night, I can remain calm, encourage myself and know that I survived that night on a yoga mat at Heathrow airport and everything turned out just fine.