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NIU study abroad program offers cultural experiences

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009 10:32 a.m. CDT

DEKALB – Northern Illinois University students have an opportunity to experience other cultures while preparing for their careers.

The NIU Study Abroad Office offers various programs for students to study in a different country. Anne Seitzinger, director of the Study Abroad Office, said programs are available in about 75 countries. She said there are study abroad opportunities for most majors.

“We try to make programs available to students of every major, and we also try to make programs available for students who want to take general education credit when they are going abroad,” Seitzinger said. “There are some areas that are a little more underrepresented than others. For example, engineering has been an area where there haven’t been too many programs in the past, but that’s changing.”

Seitzinger said most students participate in a faculty-directed study abroad program, which usually lasts between three to six weeks. However, students may participate in a program in which they study in another country for a whole semester or an entire year.

“Students pretty much pick the length of time that they like to be gone,” she said.

While studying in a particular country, students may either stay in a dormitory or an apartment or with a host family.

Seitzinger said the number of students who have attended a study abroad program has remained steady during the past few years.

“I think we’ve seen a slight increase over the past couple of years,” Seitzinger said. “We have been wondering how the economy would affect programs, but we have not seen a decrease.”

Seitzinger said several faculty members also participate in study abroad programs. She said about 20 faculty members are set to direct their own study abroad program this year.

“We like to see that, because not only do we want students to have that global perspective, but it’s nice when the faculty do as well,” Seitzinger said. “It kind of enriches the classroom experience for them and their students.”

Victoria Toussaint, interim program and outreach coordinator, said the study abroad programs give students an opportunity to learn about another culture first hand and to develop relationships in other countries.

“Every day in class, students are hearing that we are living in a global economy. So the Study Abroad Office is trying to help, so students can actually participate in that and live and work in the global economy,” Toussaint said. “Teachers are always telling you that you need to get out of your bubble, to get out of your comfort zone to learn how to deal with other people.”

Seitzinger said participating in a study abroad program also may help a student find employment in the future.

“Now, it’s a pretty intense job market,” Seitzinger said. “And study abroad kind of shows that extra initiative, so we hope that it helps them in their careers.”

Toussaint said, when students return from a study abroad program, they are asked to complete a survey describing their experience. She said many students report on some of the things that they learned about the country they visited.

“They always learn something new about the country, whether it be the food or what they drink or what they wear,” Toussaint said. “So they all have different experiences, but they all love it. Some of them indicate that they want to go back again.”

Seitzinger said many of the students share stories about some of the sites they visited while studying in another country.

“Obviously, these are academic programs, and students are earning credit, and they have homework, but the programs also have, built into them, components where there’s a cultural aspect,” Seitzinger said. “They might take one or two day trips to another country to visit other sites. They’re given some free time, so they can travel on their own and explore new areas.”

The Study Abroad Office conducts various programs to inform students about the programs. They conduct a study abroad fair each year and host “Study Abroad 101,” 3:30 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday at the Study Abroad Office, in Room 417 of Williston Hall.

Several faculty members and students who have participated visit classrooms and campus organizations to tell students about study abroad opportunities.

“We have students who have come back from studying abroad, and we have them help us go into classrooms and make presentations and to be available to talk to students,” Seitzinger said. “Sometimes the most influential person, as far as convincing a student to study abroad, can be another student.”

Seitzinger said there are also scholarships and financial aid available for students who are interested in participating in a study abroad program.

For more information about the NIU study abroad program call 815-753-0700 or visit www.studyabroad.niu.edu.

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