Every year, approximately 1,200 Virginia Tech undergraduates take what they have learned in the classroom and apply it to real world situations by studying abroad.
When describing why every student should study abroad, Kristine Bannister of South Riding, Va., a senior majoring in psychology in the College of Science, reflected on her abroad trips to Greece, Switzerland, and India, and how she managed to incorporate them into her four years at Virginia Tech. “I wish everyone had the opportunity to study abroad because it gives you hands-on experiences that a PowerPoint in class will never be able to cover,” she said. “Traveling has taught me to be understanding of different people and cultures.”
Because of her extremely full academic calendar, she says she chose to utilize both her summer and winter breaks to study abroad through different Virginia Tech faculty-led programs. “I knew that I wanted to see the world – I just wasn't sure where I wanted to go or when I would be able to,” Bannister said. Her education abroad experiences contributed to her desire to study anthropology at the graduate level.
Understanding different cultures and ways of life is becoming a necessity in today’s global society. Caitlin Mitchell of Silver Spring, Md., a sophomore majoring in biological systems engineering in the College of Engineering, spent her winter break implementing water purifying systems in a rural village in Northern Ghana through the Community Water Solutions Fellowship program. Although this program was not directly through Virginia Tech, she was able to receive honors credit for studying abroad as well as interact with students from across the United States.
“I had a wonderful experience and was really amazed about how different ways of living can be. These people became sick by consuming the most vital part of life – water. It took the smallest effort by the team I was working with to fix that and change their lives,” she said. Caitlin went three weeks without technology, but was able to have real conversations with real people. “I may have been disconnected from what I would consider the outside world, but it forced me to connect with new people around me as well as with myself.”
Lydia Michailow of Virginia Beach, Va., a senior majoring in human development and religion and culture in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, also got the chance to connect with people from different backgrounds by participating in the Semester at Sea program during the summer of 2010. During her two-month voyage, she visited the Mediterranean, stopping in Spain, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Egypt, and Morocco.
While abroad, Lydia earned nine credits, all of which transferred for Virginia Tech credit. Each class was taught by life-long learners, who are highly respected individuals in their given fields. She took Global Studies, which was a required course, as well as Race and Culture and International Perspectives in Higher Education. Global Studies was taught in an auditorium, and her other classes were much smaller and more interactive. While at port, classes were not held.
Lydia says that Semester at Sea “completely changed my worldview, major, and plans for what I want to do with my life. I highly recommend Semester at Sea to anyone who wants to see as much of the world as they can in a semester, make great connections with people from around the world, expand their global experience, earn college credit, and have a ton of fun!”
The Education Abroad office at Virginia Tech is dedicated to finding the perfect place for students to enhance their undergraduate careers through studying abroad.
Marketing manager for Virginia Tech’s Education Abroad office, Chelsey Berg of Doylestown, Pa., a senior majoring in architecture in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, stresses that there are numerous programs that students can choose from such as faculty-led trips, bilateral agreements, direct enrollment, and third party programs. Students can also choose a time span that is right for them. Virginia Tech offers year-long and semester-long programs, summer programs, as well as spring and winter break programs.
“Students should also see what programs their colleges are hosting,” she said. The Pamplin College of Business, for example, sponsors many study abroad trips that count for in-major credit. These are wonderful ways for students to stay on track while taking advantage of great opportunities.
Chelsey chose to directly enroll in the Universidad Torcuato di Tella in Buenos Aires. She spent a year studying in Buenos Aires taking courses such as Urban Planning, the Culture of Argentina, and A History of Architecture of Latin America and Argentina. All of her classes were taught in Spanish. “I learned so much about myself while abroad and it definitely gave me a better understanding of what I wanted to do with my future,” she said. “I was also able to travel throughout South America, immersing myself in the culture, and meeting new people and seeing amazing things.”
Her advice on studying abroad – don’t feel like you do not have enough time to study abroad during your undergraduate career. “We see students from every major and from every class organizing their abroad experiences,” she said. “If students come in to the Education Abroad office with an open mind and an idea of what they want to get out of the experience, then the staff will help them find the best fit.”