Written by Jill Reister (MA, Communication, 2007), who is an Assistant Academic Director for UC International
This story is part of an ongoing series of posts about the value of study abroad experiences for UC students. In May and June, we are asking Communication alumni and friends to consider making a donation to the Communication Forum Fund to provide financial support for future Communication students who wish to study abroad. All donations collected during these two months will go toward that purpose. Please go to theCommunication Forum fund donation page to make your gift.
As a UC Communication alum (MA 2007) with over 10 years of experience working in the study abroad office at UC , I could write hundreds of pages about the lives I’ve personally seen that have been transformed through international experiences. But first I thought I’d talk a little bit about myself. Although my family hosted foreign exchange students when I was growing up, I had never traveled abroad until I decided to spend 6 months in Argentina as a foreign exchange student my sophomore year of high school. Living with a host family and attending a local school forced me to learn the language and immerse myself quickly into everyday life. When I arrived, I couldn’t answer even simple questions about what I wanted to eat or what classes I needed to take. By the end of my semester, I was writing papers in Spanish, passing chemistry exams in Spanish and even dreaming in Spanish each night. Not to mention I have close friends, a second family, and a place to always call “home” in Córdoba, Argentina.
When it was time to look at colleges, my biggest priority was which university could I attend that would give me the most opportunities to travel abroad. I ended up at Miami University and chose to major in Communication after talking to faculty at summer orientation and finding that they were supportive of my interest in studying abroad. I studied abroad 3 times in college, spending a year in Europe and a summer in New Zealand and I easily graduated in 4 years with a double major, with a lot of support from my Communication faculty advisors.
When I came to UC and began my masters in Communication, I was excited to see how furthering my education in communication could help me advance in my career in international education. Since receiving my MA in 2007, I have been promoted twice and am now the liaison to all McMicken students that study abroad through UC. I am also currently working on my PhD in Educational Studies with my dissertation focusing on the decision making factors for students that choose to study abroad in a non-traditional destination.
I’ve now traveled to over 30 countries and have visited universities on 6 continents (Sorry Antarctica!). I have seen firsthand how enriching these academic experiences can be for our students as they learn how to navigate a new culture with different languages, societal norms and communication styles. Inside and outside of the classroom, these students are learning 24-7 and they are better prepared to handle life’s challenges because through study abroad they gain independence, flexibility, cross-cultural skills and are better able to adapt to challenging situations, all things that employers are looking for when making hiring decisions. Research also shows that students that study abroad in college find jobs in their desired field faster than the average college student, and they even get higher starting salaries too!
In my personal travels and study abroad experiences, I have faced many challenges. Mostly I have had to rely on my communication skills to move ahead though it wasn’t always easy. For example, in my first year working as a study abroad advisor, I was given the opportunity to lead a group of students to study at a new partner university in South Korea. I had never been to Asia before and I was not familiar with the culture or language, yet I was put in charge of this group and expected to navigate seamlessly. Thinking about what I had learned in my Communication courses about individualistic and collectivist cultures, and high vs. low context cultures helped me learn how to prepare myself and the students before we left. I led many discussions with them about cultural differences, before, during and after the experience. Paying attention to non-verbal cues and being respectful to our South Korean hosts helped me feel more confident as an international educator and program leader. It was then when I realized that cultural competency skills can always be improved and being an active communicator is fundamentally important to bridging the gap between people across cultures.
During the 2014-15 academic year at UC, 57 Communication majors studied in 26 different countries, 9 of them for a full semester. 15 of those students are first generation college students and the majority have demonstrated financial need. UC is able to help these students afford to study abroad through support through our UC International grants. We awarded over $500,000 in grant funding to UC students this year and around 90% of applicants received some funding to help offset their travel expenses. Grants typically range from $300-$1,200 with students with higher financial need and students studying for longer durations receiving more money. For students with higher financial need, we often recommend semester study abroad options as that way students can use their existing financial aid package to cover overseas expenses. We have semester options in 22 different countries that cost the same as UC in-state tuition or even less. But for many students, spending a full semester away can be daunting, so 75% of UC students that study abroad choose to study on one of our 90+ short-term faculty-led programs.
Communication majors have a lot of flexibility when selecting a study abroad program since so many universities around the world teach communication courses in English. It’s also easy for students to fulfill other McMicken requirements abroad such as language courses, general education courses and free electives. Popular destinations include England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica, Chile, India, Thailand, China, Japan and South Africa.
I encourage anyone interested to check-out our UC Study Abroad web site . We are happy to work with anyone interested in studying abroad. As a Communication alum myself, I really want to increase the number of Communication majors taking advantage of these opportunities here at UC. Why wait until retirement to explore the world – do it now when you have the support from UC to make it financially, academically and logistically feasible!