More and more students study abroad at some point in their college career, and one of the great pleasures of working here at Villanova is to hear the glowing reports as the students come back from their overseas experiences. Today we are talking to Mr. Lance Kenney, Director of Villanova’s Office of International Studies to learn about some of the possibilities and advantages of international education.
Fresh@News: The Class of 2015 just got to Villanova. Should they be talking about international studies already?
Mr. Kenney: It’s never too soon for students and parents to start talking about international study. Through the Office of International Studies (OIS), we have over 700 students studying abroad this academic year. The immediate benefits of international education can be academic, such as studying a new field or enhancing your language learning in a new way. Those benefits also can be professional, especially given the number of students we’ve seen participating in international internships. In the long term, though, the most important benefits are personal. Study abroad makes students more confident, more empathetic to other cultures, and more aware of world events. They become more conscious of career options and career goals, more willing to take challenges and, for these reasons, more attractive to employers. In short, study abroad makes students what the Harvard Business Review calls ‘culturally intelligent.’
Fresh@News: Which of these programs should current freshmen be thinking about?
Mr. Kenney: There are a few different possibilities. Many freshmen go on one of our summer programs, so let’s start there. Villanova has sixteen summer programs. These programs include intensive language, literature, and culture programs (Spanish, French, Italian, China, Vietnam) and also area studies programs (Chile, Ireland, Russia.) We also offer international business programs which are based in China, England, Italy, or Spain. Other programs focus on a specific discipline (rhetoric and performance in Greece, art history in Italy, politics in the Czech Republic, human rights in Rwanda). Each of the programs has a Villanova University faculty member as an on-site coordinator and provides excellent opportunities for students who wouldn’t normally study overseas or cannot fit it into their schedules. Information on the programs is available from our annual brochure which is distributed on campus or from our website www.villanova.edu/vpaa/intlstudies/summerprograms.
Fresh@News: What about the programs for fall and spring? When should first year students start thinking about them?
Mr. Kenney: We’ve all heard about the idea of a “junior year abroad” and it is still true that many students go overseas in their junior year. However, more and more students are finding this difficult, usually because of degree requirements. Both the School of Business and the College of Nursing have special programs allowing sophomores to study overseas, and first semester seniors can now study abroad as well. Overseas study is sometimes more challenging for Engineering students, given the sequential nature of their curriculum, but with enough advanced planning and preparation it is possible for them to study overseas for a semester as well. (In fact, we have a record number of engineers away this year). Business and Engineering students who are considering going overseas for a semester in their sophomore year should come into our office right away. Nursing students should consult with the Office of the Dean of Nursing. Though students who are thinking about going overseas during their junior year can wait until sophomore year to start the process we welcome them as well, since the sooner we meet with them the sooner we can begin academic advising to help them get the most out of their international experience.
Fresh@News: What kind of programs does Villanova offer during the academic year?
Mr. Kenney: Villanova University basically has three types of programs. “Traditional” programs allow students to enroll in overseas universities to take classes with students from that country. Villanova is affiliated with many programs of this type, and this year alone VU students are at over 85 universities in 30 nations. “Nontraditional” programs, though, allow students not only to take classes overseas but also to do something outside of the classroom. For instance, many students are doing international internships, volunteer work, service-learning, and field research. We’ve had students working at businesses in Hong Kong, doing ethnographic research in Vietnam, studying the rain forests in Costa Rica, and interviewing politicians in Dublin, just to name a few opportunities. As more and more US students study overseas, these ‘nontraditional’ programs become more popular.
Finally, Villanova University has its own study abroad programs. Our two study centers are at the National University of Ireland, Galway and the Università degli Studi di Urbino, Italy. Villanova students get to live and study with local students while participating in a program designed just for them. Villanova’s Resident Directors organize study tours, oversee orientation and registration, and direct the students in special research projects. Given the long history of connections between Villanova and both Galway and Urbino, these programs have been especially popular. Another Villanova-specific program is in Melbourne. This program gives students the chance to take a fifth course that further immerses them in the local culture. In Melbourne, that class is a pre-semester course on issues of Australian multiculturalism that incorporates ethnographic research. Finally, there is the Vatican Internship program which allows select Communication and Computer Science students to work in one of the offices of the Holy See. These programs reflect a commitment to the university’s belief in the value of studying abroad that also allow us to maintain greater levels of quality control.
Fresh@News: What is the actual application process?
Mr. Kenney: There is a three-step process for students. First, students complete an online initial application form and register for an information session. Both of these steps can be completed at the OIS homepage, www.villanova.edu/vpaa/intlstudies. At the information session, OIS staff members review the necessary academic components, discuss relevant policies, and show students how to research programs. After researching the options, students can schedule an individual appointment with the Office of International Studies. These individual meetings comprise the second step, where a staff member discusses with the student in greater detail the program options and that student’s individual needs. Students may also need to meet with the department chair, academic adviser, or language instructor to review the academic audit or curriculum sheet. Ultimately, in conjunction with the Office of International Studies, students will complete the Prior Approval Form, choosing the courses to be taken overseas and determining how credit will be awarded. The last step is to return the VU Prior Approval form (with signatures from the chair and dean) to the Office of International Studies. At that time, the staff member from International Studies will review the overseas application and answer any remaining questions.
Fresh@News: How much does it cost to study abroad?
Mr. Kenney: Students studying overseas for a semester pay Villanova University tuition, regardless of program or location. All other non-tuition costs (housing, orientation, etc.) are paid by students on their own, either to the sending institution or the university where they are studying. All financial aid, grants, and scholarships that students receive when they are on campus are still credited against their Villanova tuition when they are overseas. Information on the international studies tuition policy is available from the Office of International Studies parents’ website at www.villanova.edu/vpaa/intlstudies/parents/ .
A variety of scholarships are available for students studying overseas. Some of these scholarships are offered by Villanova University for Honors students or students studying in ‘nontraditional’ areas; alternatively, scholarships are available from some US sending institutions or other endowments.
Finally, the summer programs vary in cost. The most up-to-date information on program costs can be found at the program’s webpage.
Fresh@News: What kind of support does the University provide to students who are abroad?
Mr. Kenney: Villanova University is very selective about the programs or universities with which it affiliates. These programs are the best support for students when they are ‘on the ground.’ Our role once students are overseas is one of international troubleshooting: advice on health and safety, course approvals and scheduling, culture shock, etc. In the event of emergencies, students not only have 24-hour/day resources available to them on-site, but also have the ability to contact staff here regardless of the time.
Fresh@News: Given the current situation in the US, are there any concerns about the safety of our students when they go abroad?
Mr. Kenney: Both the Office of International Studies and the field of international education as a whole have been very conscious of safety issues given recent events. We have no reason to believe that students are in greater danger because they are overseas than if they stayed here in the U.S. Again, the University is very select about which programs it approves, and these few programs must have demonstrated a commitment to health and safety issues. Students aren’t allowed to participate in ‘island’ programs which would make them stand out as foreigners; and in non-English speaking countries, all students must study the host country language. In other words, our requirements for student immersion reflect serious safety concerns.
Most importantly, though, students are fully briefed on health and safety issues both in individual meetings and at the mandatory pre-departure orientation. The Office of International Studies stays in regular contact with the State Department, the Overseas Security Advisory Council, the sending institutions, and professionals in the host countries. Both as a university and a representative of international education, we are united with them in believing that safety issues should NOT inhibit students from studying overseas at this time.
Fresh@News: How are the students when they return?
Mr. Kenney: Self-confident, independent, energized. Most are anxious to go back, and ready to tell friends and family how much they have changed for the better. Some have difficulties readjusting to the United States, but we have the opportunity to talk to them about these issues at our ‘welcome back’ orientation.
Fresh@News: Do you have any advice for parents?
Mr. Kenney: Parents are the most powerful advocates for international education. The first piece of advice I would have for parents is to encourage your student to study abroad. We’ve already mentioned some of the positive aspects of studying overseas. The benefits to the student—professionally, academically, personally—are staggering.
Second, encourage your student to be in contact with the Office of International Studies and Overseas Programs. ‘Word of mouth’ and ‘a friend told me…’ are often detrimental when beginning the process of finding an overseas program. This Office should be the starting point, with an initial counseling session that will answer major questions (credits, courses, costs) and review the major sources for researching program options.
Encourage students to think of their study abroad opportunities within the parameters of their needs. Some of the questions they should ask are: “What program will help me to develop a skill relevant to my major/minor/career plans/interests? In which program will I learn the most and become more fully immersed in another culture? Which programs allow me learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom?” Remember, the study abroad experience is an extension of, not a break from, your student’s Villanova education.
Along these same lines, don’t underestimate the learning potential for just the application process itself. Students need to “own” this process, as it is perhaps one of the most life-changing experiences of their academic careers. As much as we as parents want to help our children—in their decision-making processes, in their establishment of goals and aspirations, even in their workloads—study abroad must be an opportunity for students to develop their independence. Empower your student to see this process all the way through and use them as your primary resource for all the questions that YOU have. It will better prepare them for the elation and anxiety that comes with living in another culture!
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