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Majoring in a Foreign Language Yields Lifelong Benefits

by Mike Sheffey

As my bio states, I am a Spanish major...and I love it! If you’re considering majoring in a foreign language, here are some helpful tips:

  • It’s time intensive. Foreign languages are about memorizing and practice, practice, practice. If you aren’t willing to put in time – and a lot of it – this may not be the path for you. Also, professors like to assign many small tasks with intermittent bigger ones so if you’re one to only focus on the big pictures, you’ll be challenged with what you might think is ‘busy work’. (It’s not, though...it’s crazy useful.)
  • You should study abroad. I highly recommend a language-intensive study abroad for anyone majoring in a foreign language. (Side note: Wofford’s Foreign Language Department is now called Modern Languages because “Foreign” was too alienating and encouraged a cultural divide. Just some food for thought...) I loved studying in Chile for a semester and knowing Spanish definitely helped. Also, studying abroad is essentially required to major in another language at many colleges and universities: I know Wofford’s program helped me tremendously and it also wound up being cheaper than a semester on campus!
  • It’s incredibly helpful in life. I know that because I’m bilingual, I’ll be more desired in the job market (some jobs more than others), but it also helps with learning other languages. Similar to computer languages, once you know one, the others become easier to learn.
  • It’s a one-stop shop. Language courses cover history, humanities, public speaking, writing, team-based work as well as the actual language you are learning. Hate talking in front of crowds? Work on that but also present in another language. Not the best in research? Now work on writing a huge thesis in Spanish (at least I did when in Chile). Overall, the language aspect is the bare minimum of what you learn or accomplish. Being a foreign language major makes you into a well-rounded, practiced individual with skills that many graduates won’t get from other majors.
  • It broadens your world view. As a foreign language major, you learn very quickly that the United States isn’t everything and that the world needs its diversity and cultural mix to work and function. Foreign language majors have wider scopes than most people and a leg up on the competition in all aspects of life because they can view problems with more open minds and approach challenges from different angles.

So I urge you to consider a major (or even a minor) in another language. You won’t regret it: They’re easy to double major with and you’ll emerge a better person!

Mike Sheffey is a senior at Wofford College double majoring in computer science and Spanish. He loves all things music and photography. Mike works for an on-campus sports broadcasting company as well as the music news blog PropertyOfZack.com. He also works with several friends to promote concerts and shows in Greensboro, NC. He hopes to use this blogging position to inform and assist others who are seeking the right college or those currently enrolled in college by providing advice on college life, both in general and specific to Wofford.


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by Emily

Recent economic hardships have derailed many families' college plans, prompting some to stop saving and others to start considering less expensive colleges.  For students still determined to attend a prestigious university, another option has been gaining traction.  According to an article in The Boston Globe, applications from American students are up at many of Canada's top universities, indicating a new surge in an already growing trend. 

Since 2001, the number of Americans attending Canadian universities increased by 50 percent, and based on current trends in applications and increased recruiting efforts, growth is expected to continue.  Americans choosing to study abroad in Canada are still eligible for federal student financial aid, even if they attend college abroad for all four years.  And even international tuition in Canada ($14,487 on average) is cheap right now when compared to private college tuition ($19,337 on average) and even out-of-state tuition at some state colleges in the United States.

 Studying in Canada also removes many of the traditional barriers faced by international students.  Many Americans studying in Canada can cheaply and easily return home for holidays.  Students are instructed in English at the majority of Canadian colleges and universities, signs around town will also be in English, and for the most part, accents are not even very pronounced.  Despite their proximity to home, though, students still benefit from being immersed in another culture, and since many of Canada's top schools are situated in urban settings, Canadian universities also present an opportunity to experience life in a big city.

 However, the bargain is dependent on exchange rates.  When the American and Canadian dollars are approximately equal in value, studying in Canada becomes relatively more expensive, as does living in Canada.  Also, while some college scholarships can be applied to tuition at Canadian universities, many stipulate that applicants must be attending college in the United States.  While studying abroad in Canada is an option to consider when looking for ways to get the most educational value for your dollar, be sure to weigh all your alternatives.  Regardless of where you wind up, though, there are scholarship opportunities and other ways to help pay for school.


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by Emily

One much-discussed aspect of the college experience is gaining exposure to new people and perspectives.  Another statement that commonly turns up in the college search process is that different schools serve different groups of students--hence the importance of finding a good fit for you.  Many of the most recognizable and commonly referenced differences are based at least in part on the race, gender, socioeconomic status, or country of origin of a college's student population.  A college's mission and ideological and cultural base also play an important role, and exposure to ideological and religious diversity can also be a major component of the college experience.

One student at Brown University recently turned his experiences with such ideological diversity into a book, entitled "The Unlikely Disciple: a Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University."  The author, Kevin Roose, decided to go on a "domestic study abroad" and enroll at Liberty University, a conservative Christian college, for a semester.  What emerges is, at least according to early reviews, an interesting and balanced look at Liberty from an outsider's perspective, as well as an honest exploration of the author's reactions to his new environment.

If you're in the process of choosing a college, or you're just curious about how wide-ranging the student experience can be in America, this book sounds like an interesting read.  Roose's story is also a reminder for current college students that you don't necessarily need to go to an exotic locale to be exposed to people with a cultural experience markedly different from your own.  Though study abroad occasionally can sound like an expensive and protracted sightseeing trip, Roose's "domestic study abroad" is a reminder of the importance of seeing and experiencing a new culture and place and stepping outside one's own ideological bounds.


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by Agnes Jasinski

One alternative to the traditional job search has seen a marked increase in applicants over the last year, as recent graduates look for ways to bide their time in a struggling economy that has made the job market even more competitive. According to an article in Inside Higher Education today, the Institute for International Education (IIE), which awards fellowships through the Fulbright Program, received more than 8,500 applications for student Fulbrights for 2010-11. That's an increase of more than 1,000 applications since last year.

The Fulbright Program looks to strengthen relations between Americans and other countries, and gets its funding from an annual appropriation from Congress. There are about 1,500 of the student awards to go around, and those awarded the State Department-sponsored fellowships are able to study, conduct research or teach English in 140 countries. Grants are awarded in all fields and disciplines. While the IIE has been working harder to get the word out on the program, many college administrators think marketing tactics alone wouldn't explain such a significant jump in applicants, especially because the application process for the awards is fairly involved. "Some are putting applying for fellowships into the mix in a way they might not have if the job market were stronger," said Michael Pippenger, Columbia University’s associate dean of fellowship programs, in Inside Higher Ed.

The Fulbright Program isn't the only alternative to employment that's seen an increase in applicants. Teach for America also saw applications rise about 42 percent last year, a record for the program that trains students to teach in low-income communities, and those numbers are only expected to increase this year. The group does say they increased their recruiting efforts, but the current state of the economy may have something to do with more graduates postponing the traditional job search.

Programs that emphasize cultural experiences, volunteerism, or service can also be good resume builders for when the job market picks up and you're ready to venture back out into to search for that perfect position. If you're able to, consider your options, whether you're looking at programs while you're still in school or for post-graduation. And don't forget that there's plenty of funding and free scholarship money out there for you to pursue such opportunities.


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by Agnes Jasinski

If you're inspired to consider a study abroad program after seeing all the news on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall today, chances are you're twice as likely to follow through on the idea if you're female than if you're male. A recent study conducted by three University of Iowa researchers suggests that women, especially women at liberal arts colleges, are more likely to study abroad because of factors like their academic pursuits and backgrounds.

Explaining the difference exactly seemed difficult for the researchers, as they tried to dispel common wisdom that more women studied abroad because more women than men were interested in fields of study like the arts and foreign languages that more easily lent themselves to overseas programs. The research suggests it's more complicated than that. An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that examines the study suggests that the women interested in foreign study were also more easily influenced by liberal arts programs, especially those exploring diversity issues, than men, and that women were also more influenced by outside sources such as professors and their parents when determining whether to study abroad.

The study's results also found that:

  • Men who interacted with their peers were less likely to study abroad than those who interacted little with their peers.
  • Women at regional and community colleges were less likely to study abroad than women at liberal arts schools.
  • Men who reported undecided majors were more likely to study abroad than men with set fields of study, although that characteristic had little effect on women.
  • Asian-American men were less likely than white students to study abroad, but this was not the case for Asian-American women. Hispanic and white men were equally likely to study abroad, but Hispanic women were much more likely tostudy abroad than white women.

So should you study abroad? Apart from the obvious of being able to get out of your comfort zone and learn more about a new country, the experience is a good way to pick up skills you may not have picked up otherwise. If you're somewhat proficient in a foreign language already, consider visiting a country where that language dominates so that you're able to come back home and boast that you're bilingual. Studying abroad could also be a good resume booster in a difficult economy if you go overseas with the intention to pursue a particular field of study that you're interested in, or be a part of a volunteer project, as community service looks good not only to employers, but to scholarship providers as well.

And if you're worried about how you're going to pay for your time abroad, or whether you'll need to take out more student loans to do so, there are study abroad scholarships available to help you cover those expenses, especially if you've shown that you have significant financial need.


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by Agnes Jasinski

More study abroad participants outside the kinds of majors that typically spend time overseas are going to places like Asia, Africa and Latin America, according to recent data from the Institute of International Education, with less growth in European countries that have traditionally been considered study abroad staples.

While Britain is still the most popular study abroad destination, the number of program participants there grew by only 2 percent over the last year, compared to 19 percent in China, nearly 20 percent in India, and 18 percent to countries in Africa, such as Ghana. An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week describes possible reasons for the trend. College students could be looking toward the future and are intrigued by technological advances in countries like India, as many of the new study abroad participants come from majors outside the usual liberal arts programs. (The number of math and science majors studying abroad increased by about 17 percent.) And signing up for a program in a developing country will cost a lot less than spending a semester in Western Europe.

Last year was a record year for study abroad programs, with more than 260,000 American students participating in programs across the world, an increase of about 8.5 percent over the year before. Why the increase? Looking at the kinds of programs that have seen increases could lead to some explanation. Study abroad programs in the health sciences increased by about 19 percent. At home, more undergraduates are interested in focusing on public health issues, which lends itself easily to study abroad programs. And economic problems in the United States have affected the global economies, making it less expensive to travel to many destinations.

The number of foreign students coming to study in the United States has also increased by about 8 percent over the last year, according to the Institute. The number of first-time international students rose even more, by about 16 percent. The increases were most apparent among undergraduate students, which is somewhat surprising as international students have traditionally come to study here for graduate programs.

If you're interested in studying abroad, don't assume you'll need to pay for a program out of pocket or increase your student loan debt. There are study abroad scholarships available to help you cover those expenses, especially if you’ve shown that you have significant financial need.


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by Emily

Yesterday, in a joint statement with the leader of China, President Obama announced plans to strengthen the United States' relationship with China through several efforts, including expanding study abroad programs in each country. China currently sends more students than any other country to American colleges and universities, and the President promised yesterday to make an even greater effort to facilitate the enrollment of Chinese students in U.S. schools. Meanwhile, Obama has pledged to greatly expand study abroad in China for American students, from 20,000 currently enrolled, to 100,000, matching the number of Chinese students currently studying here.

Many colleges and universities are trying to boost interest in study abroad, especially among student groups that are significantly less likely to participate. The current administration's emphasis on studying in China could interest more students in exploring the possibilities for studying in other countries, as well as their awareness of the study abroad scholarships and other financial aid that can help.

And for many students attending state colleges in the United States, attending college in another country might be starting to sound good, at least compared to the situation at home. Democrats and Republicans in Congress continue to debate over just what will happen with federal student loans next year, while state budget cuts are continuing to drive up college costs and reduce aid. The most dramatic examples of state cuts are taking place in California and Michigan, the states hardest hit by the recession.

Students in the University of California system found out that their tuition and fees are likely to increase by 32 percent next year, at the same time colleges are forced to scale back enrollment and financial aid due to a significant drop in state funding. The University of California's Board of Regents approved a fee increase that would raise costs by at least $2,500 by next fall, with students in some graduate and professional programs seeing even sharper fee increases.

Meanwhile, Michigan students are receiving bills from their colleges to the tune of thousands of dollars for the current semester, just as spring registration is under way. The state's Promise Scholarship, modeled after the much-lauded Kalamazoo Promise, was canceled this year due to lack of available funding. Students and schools had already budgeted for receiving the money this fall, and now that it's not available, colleges are billing students who lost their scholarships for the amount of their tuition the scholarship would have covered. Typically, unpaid bills prevent students from registering and graduating, though schools have said they'd do their best to accommodate students, provided the money will be paid.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The latest group of Rhodes Scholars was announced by The Rhodes Trust yesterday, with 32 Americans chosen to receive two to four years of study at the University of Oxford in England, all expenses paid.  The Rhodes scholarships were created in 1902 through the will of Cecil Rhodes, who hoped to broaden leaders' minds by exposing them to different cultures, and the first group of Americans entered Oxford in 1904. It is now the oldest international fellowship offered, and the number of applicants who apply make it one of the most competitive academic and merit-based scholarships out there. This year, more than 1,500 students sought their college or university's endorsement into the program, and 805 received those endorsements, just the first step in the application process. The winners will enter Oxford next October.  So how do you apply for the prestigious award?

  • Candidates for the award must be endorsed by their college, and any rules or deadlines regarding that endorsement will be set by your Rhodes Scholarship institutional representative.
  • In addition to that endorsement, applications will require five to eight letters of recommendation, a personal essay, a certified transcript, a list of activities, photograph, and proof of citizenship. Deadlines fall in October annually, but as the process is involved, it's best to get an early start.
  • Committees in 16 U.S. districts across the country invite the strongest applicants to appear for interviews, where questions will explore the information you've given on your application.
  • Applicants are chosen based on the following criteria, set forward by Cecil Rhodes: high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor. (You don't need to be a star athlete to fulfill that last criteria, just show a "fondness for sports.")

A group of international students is also chosen annually, with 80 scholars joining the Americans this year. If you're interested in an international experience but aren't interested studying at Oxford, there are hundreds of study abroad opportunities available in nearly every discipline, and nearly every country. Broaden your horizons, and know there are also study abroad scholarships out there to help you fund your time abroad.


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Because Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees

How To Fund Study Abroad Opportunities

July 20, 2010

by Derrius Quarles

If only money grew on trees. This is a feeling that can be popular among college students. As I write this entry from Accra, Ghana, I have the aforementioned feeling, but I also realize how salient and life-changing traveling outside one’s country truly is. It is an experience everyone should be able to have at least once during their life. However, anyone who has ever done a study or volunteer abroad program during their undergraduate career will tell you how strenuous and tedious the entire process can be. Obtaining your Visa, getting the required immunizations and medication, and most of all, securing the money for the program tuition and fees. No matter where in the world you may be traveling, these fees can quickly add up and, on average, you will have to pay out at least $2,000 to participate in a volunteer abroad program, $5,000 for a summer study abroad program, and $10,000 for a semester abroad program. I think I speak for most college students when I say that college is expensive enough as it is, and $2,000-$10,000 is a substantial cost—a sum that cannot be casually given away. So, how can you get over the fact that money can’t be found on tree limbs in order to go about funding such potentially life-changing international experiences? Well, the first thing you need to do is have an understanding of your options.

Just as there are a variety of undergraduate international programs, there are a variety of ways to fund such experiences. Depending on the description of the program you are doing including: length and time of stay, location, if you are taking courses, if you are performing research, etc your financial-aid options will change. In order to better help you visualize your options I will use a list to break international programs up into three types: Semester Programs, Summer Programs, and Volunteer Programs.

Semester Programs

  • Governmental Aid (Federal Pell Grant)
  • Institutional Aid (Merit or Need-Based Scholarships and Grants)
  • Aid from academic departments
  • Aid from the study abroad organization/company*
  • Outside Scholarships, Grants, and Fellowships*
  • Fund-raising*

Summer Programs

  • Aid from academic departments
  • Aid from the study abroad organization/company*
  • Outside Scholarships, Grants, and Fellowships*
  • Fund-raising*

Volunteer Programs

  • Aid from the study abroad organization/company*
  • Outside Scholarships, Grants, and Fellowships*
  • Fund-raising*

* Denotes aid that can be used for any program type

Semester programs have the largest amount of funding options. What makes them the most ideal type of program is the fact that you will be taking classes abroad at the same time you would be taking them at your home institution, which allows almost all of the financial aid that you have received from the government and from your school to be transferred over to the school located abroad. If you have been accepted into this type of program, you should contact your school's financial aid office in order to start the process to transfer both your governmental aid and institutional aid, including your Pell Grant and merit- or need-based scholarships and grants. Another fairly simple way to receive funds is to meet with the chair of your major’s department and the director of international affairs to give them a description of the program you have been accepted to and to make your case as to why you should receive funding.

Summer programs have fewer options than semester programs, but they are less expensive. You will not be able to use any governmental or institutional aid that has been designated for the academic year; however, this does not mean you cannot receive funds from your school. Like semester programs, you can schedule meetings with your major’s department chair and director of international affairs in attempts to receive funds. In addition to this, you can utilize the aid listed below in the *Aid that Can be Used for Any Program section.

Volunteer programs have the least amount of options for funding, but fortunately, they are also the cheapest type of international program. Options that can be utilized for these types of programs are listed below in the *Aid that Can be Used for Any Program section.

*Aid that Can be Used for Any Program

Most international programs are handled by some type of company that specializes in sending students abroad and providing needed services abroad such as insurance, transportation, housing, etc. These companies almost always have opportunities to apply for scholarships and grants. These opportunities will be very scarce so you must apply for them very early. In addition to these opportunities from the specific study abroad company, you can use outside scholarships you have received to fund your program. For instance, if you have received a scholarship from an organization in your hometown, you can ask the organization to allow you to use your funds for an international experience. Also, there are scholarships and fellowships that are specifically for students who want to study abroad, such as the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Lastly, fund-raising can be the difference between having just enough to complete your international program and staying at home. You can raise funds by drafting a letter that describes your program and why it is important for you to go. This letter can be given to family members, professors, churches, businesses, etc., and should illustrate that you are passionate about going abroad. It should move people enough to give you a small or generous donation. Fund-raising can also be done via social networking sites.

Now that you are aware of your options, it's time to get your international experience funded. Even if you will not be going abroad in the near future it is best to plan early so that you will be able to take advantage of all your options. Though there may not be any money on the trees outside your dorm, you can still find money to see the world.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As if you needed more reason to study abroad, a recent study looking at 10 years worth of data shows that students who take educational experiences overseas have higher graduation rates once they’re back on their campuses. Not surprisingly, the study also found that those students also have a greater appreciate of cultures outside of their own once they’re back from their time abroad, and see the world in the a broader context.

The project comes from the Georgia Learning Outcomes of Students Studying Abroad Research Initiative, or GLOSSARI. It looked at data from 35 institutions of higher education and more than 19,000 students across Georgia since 2000. Study abroad students were compared to a “control group” of nearly 18,000 students who matched those students studying abroad when it came to variables like socioeconomic status and where they were in their college careers, among other characteristics. Among the findings:

  • The six-year graduation rate for study abroad students was about 88.7 percent, compared to 83.4 percent for those in the control group.
  • The four-year graduation rate for study abroad students was 49.6 percent, compared to 42.1 percent for those in the control group.
  • Four-year graduation rates for African-American students who studied abroad were 31 percent higher than for those African-American students in the control group. (According to an article in Inside Higher Ed on the study, it is important to note that minorities are still underrepresented in study abroad programs; about 81.8 percent of American students studying abroad are white.)
  • GPAs were higher among those studying abroad as well. Those who went abroad had average cumulative GPAs of 3.30, compared to 3.06 among those in the control group.

This doesn’t mean your grades will automatically improve once you study abroad, or that you’ll get back on track to graduate on time if you head overseas for a while. But it may mean that even those students at risk of dropping out of college may benefit from study abroad.

Study abroad isn’t always painted in a positive light. Some critics say it’s a distraction from academics, and more of a vacation for college students than a learning experience. Sure, living in a foreign country for a semester or even just a summer probably has perks that have nothing to do with your job as a student. But there is value in the experience. You’ll be forced to become more independent and hone new skills, have the opportunity to learn a new language, and even give your resume a boost. Have you studied abroad? What would you say to college students considering going abroad?

Posted Under:

GPA , Study Abroad

Tags: GPA , Graduation Rates , Study Abroad

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