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International Study Surges as More Students Leave ‘Comfort Zone’

Maybe it was the challenge of learning to speak Turkish and navigate the tangled streets of Istanbul. Or the sight of Syrian and Iraqi refugees lining the sidewalks, or the hospitality of the people, or the “absolutely beautiful” coastline.

Or maybe it was all of these.

“I was disappointed that I had to leave. I really want to go back,” said Jacqueline Gill, a senior at Fordham College at Rose Hill who spent a semester in Turkey last spring.

The number of Fordham students seeking such out-of-country experiences spiked over the past decade—to an estimated 37 percent of undergraduates, compared to a 9 percent national average—and is set to climb even higher as the University adds more foreign-study options to meet strong student interest.

“Time and time again, we hear students saying, ‘I chose Fordham because I knew I could study abroad,’” or because the University has a program in a particular country, said International and Study Abroad Programs Director Joseph Rienti, PhD.

The University just added programs in Argentina, Colombia, and Australia, bringing its total study-abroad options to 128, said Rienti; also, his staff is working with faculty members and reaching out to parents to smooth the students’ path to an experience that is important to the Jesuit mission of Fordham.

“Broadening your knowledge is what we are here for, and there’s no better way that I can think of to do that than to get the student abroad,” he said.

Students go abroad for any number of reasons. Clifford Mars, a senior majoring in history, went to Fordham’s program at Sophia University in Tokyo because “there couldn’t be a better place to learn about Asian history than in Asia,” he said. Mayarita Castillo, a senior at Fordham College at Lincoln Center double-majoring in math and Spanish, did back-to-back study tours in Ireland and Spain because such opportunities might not be there after graduation.

“When you’re in the professional world and working, you can’t just take a few months or a year off to go travel the world and fully immerse yourself in another culture,” she said.

Fordham is shooting for 50 percent of undergraduates studying abroad in the next four years, said Rienti. The University is following the lead of Generation Study Abroad, a campaign by the Institute of International Education (IIE) to double the number of U.S. students studying abroad by 2019.

Fordham’s numbers grew from 156 students in 2000-2001 to 768 this year. The University has long been among IIE’s top 40 doctoral-level universities ranked by their study-abroad numbers, starting in 2009-2010. (Fordham is No. 30 in the latest ranking, issued last year.)

The IIE campaign is an effort to help more students gain the skills—cross-cultural and otherwise—that come from international study, according to the Generation Study Abroad website.

Castillo, for instance, took a course at the University of Granada in descriptive probability and statistics that had no real textbooks, just lectures—in Spanish, of course. The midterm took four hours to complete, and approximately 40 percent of the class failed the course.

“It was one of the most challenging things I’ve done,” she said, adding that the Spanish courses and intensive practice “really opened things up for me in terms of what professional areas I can pursue.”

Such career-related aspects of foreign study are growing more important, said Rienti.

“What we tell students is, ‘Don’t just put it on your resume, [use]study abroad as a bridge to something.”

He noted the new internship program at Fordham’s London Centre, the first University-run internship program for Fordham undergraduates studying abroad.

Fordham offers both full-semester and shorter-term programs through its academic centers abroad—as in London, Granada, and Pretoria, for instance—and at other universities through exchanges that let students pay their usual Fordham tuition and take their financial aid with them. Some students enroll directly at universities abroad or join other U.S. universities’ foreign study programs.

That’s what Jacqueline Gill did, going to Istanbul through a Syracuse University program at Bahçeşehir University. A student of political science and Middle East studies, she found that seeing the refugee crisis up close “really solidified” her interest in a career in immigration law.

As for the challenges of living in Istanbul, she said, “I’m happy that I got out of my comfort zone.”


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