Study abroad programs growing in popularity at Wheaton

By Melissa Schill

Wheaton students study abroad around 28 times more than students at other U.S. universities, according to Director of Study Abroad Deb Kim. At Wheaton, 42-48 percent of each graduating class has received academic credit on a study abroad trip, compared to the 1.6 national average.

The 2018-19 academic year has seen an even greater increase in this trend, with a 26.4 percent jump in semester program participation.

Last school year, 72 students studied abroad, compared to 91 this year. Kim points to the “depth and breadth of opportunity” Wheaton has to offer for study abroad programs as a reason for this leap. “We’re trying to integrate it more into the academics, complementing it more with the majors and course offerings here -campus.”

Wheaton offers its own study abroad programs such as Wheaton in Mexico, Wheaton in China, Wheaton in England and Wheaton in Spain.

 The college also partners with more than 60 faith-based and secular study abroad programs to add diversity to students’ options. A full list of programs offered can be found on the Global and Experiential Learning (GEL) webpage.

In the event that a student feels the offered programs are not suitable for their individual academic needs, students also have the option to petition to participate in a program outside of those offered through GEL. “There really is something for everyone,” Kim said.

Junior Samantha Steeves traveled to Tanzania in the spring of 2018 with a program through Houghton College and spent three months both traveling and visiting various cultural groups as well as studying in Tanzania’s Southern Highlands.

Steeves emphasizes the importance of recognizing the influence other cultures can have. “Getting outside of your own culture opens your eyes to so many things,” Steeves said.

Along with Wheaton’s increased accessibility to a variety of programs, professor of anthropology Dr. Brian Howell believes the media has also had a significant influence on the recent increase of student participation in study abroad.

“People are increasingly aware that the United States is not alone in the world and things that are happening in other places matter,” Howell said. “Because media technologies have become so accessible we see people in other countries posting and making their own videos and so forth.

That gives people a sense that there is something out there to learn.”

For foreign language majors, studying abroad is a requirement. Senior Yuni Lopez, a Spanish major who participated in the Wheaton in Mexico program in the spring of 2018, said her experience abroad was valuable. “What other time during your life will you be able to fully pack up and leave everything and get to experience all these wonderful things the world has to offer?” she asked.

The Wheaton in Mexico program had 15 participants last spring.

Howell seconded Lopez’s

remarks. “I always tell students studying abroad while they are an undergraduate is a singular experience,” he said.

“They will not, with very few exceptions, have an opportunity to do something like this again where they have four to five months of structured engagement in another context.”

Although study abroad programs have increased in popularity, some students are still barred from participation due to finances or increased competition in applications.

Because she knew studying abroad was mandatory, Lopez “knew   needed to go abroad, but it was just a matter of which one.” Lopez originally set her sights on Wheaton in Costa Rica, but because the program was “out of pocket,” she decided on a semester program instead.

Wheaton has taken steps to make studying abroad a financially accessible option for all students. Howell explains that money is “not the barrier students think it is. There are some very expensive programs …but if they look at programs in countries that aren’t as expensive, particularly outside of Europe, they find that costs are quite a bit less.”

However, summer programs still “tend to be expensive,” according to Howell. Financial aid that students receive to attend Wheaton during the year may not apply to summer programs.

Junior Kristin Paddon was able to study abroad through Wheaton in Spain, which had 18 participants this year, but struggled to find financial aid options when she was accepted. “I really wish Wheaton had options for financial aid so that it wouldn’t be so stressful for students … especially if you have to study abroad in the summer due to commitments during the school year,” Paddon said. Because of the credits she received by taking classes in Spain, Paddon will be able to double major in Spanish and Psychology.

Semester programs are billed through Wheaton and tuition is typically the same as a semester on campus.

The costs of room and board while abroad actually may be less expensive than Wheaton’s. The financial aid a student receives during the school year applies during study abroad as well. Because of the increase in accessibility, study abroad programs have seen more student interest, making the programs more competitive. Freshman Jenna Jossart, an applicant for the Wheaton in the Holy Lands program was one of the few to be admitted.

This year, Wheaton in the Holy Lands had 95 students open an application. Of these, 76 completed their applications.

Only 29 students were admitted to the program. All other applicants have been waitlisted until the admitted students decide to accept or decline the offer.

Jossart was asked to submit her GPA, letters of recommendation and give an interview.

The program prioritizes BITH majors and minors, as well as upperclassman, which makes it difficult for some students to be admitted. Because most freshmen are undeclared, the likelihood of getting into the program is even slimmer. Jossart declared a BITH major and was initially waitlisted.

“It was super difficult for me to get in, but I’m so thankful I did.”

Though student engagement in studying abroad has increased, Kim and Howell both feel that there is room for even more participation. “Study abroad should be part of every student’s Wheaton experience,” Howell said.

Kim expects numbers to continue to rise in upcoming years.

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