In the 2016-17 academic year, Ohio University had 1,218 students study abroad.
Lorna Jean Edmonds, vice provost for Global Affairs and International Studies, said she believes studying abroad is important for students to gain a global perspective on the world.
“I think one of the things that happens is that you start to see how similar we are,” Edmonds said. “I think it starts to open your eyes to embracing diversity in a way that you wouldn’t have envisioned when seeing something outside of your community. That’s a very powerful impact.”
OU offers more than 90 study away programs in more than 40 countries, with most students traveling within the United States. The next most popular location was Italy, followed by the United Kingdom and Spain.
Edmonds said she doesn’t expect students to travel all over the world, but she encourages them to go to one place that is extremely different than what they are comfortable with.
“Just a taste of going somewhere that’s really different (from) where you’ve been before or lived gives you an insight and an opportunity to reflect about yourself and its community and culture in ways you wouldn’t have thought about if you had not gone,” Edmonds said. “We see it as really important in the academic mission.”
Tracy Kondrit, a junior studying middle-childhood education, went to Kumasi, Ghana, the summer after her freshman year to volunteer for seven weeks teaching English, mathematics and computer skills.
“It was a huge culture shock, and it was the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt in my life,” Kondrit said. “I grew up in a small town where everybody around looked the same. Then I came to an entirely different continent. I was completely out of my comfort zone the entire time, and it was really great, but it was something I was constantly pushed on more so than I’ve ever been.”
Kondrit also traveled to Jyvaskyla, Finland, last summer, where she was an exchange student at the University of Jyvaskyla.
“It was really cool to study with education students from around the world,” Kondrit said. “You always have the different perspectives on things. I was able to take a cultural identities class that was focused on education, with education students from about 20 different countries. It was experience that I wouldn’t be able to get here.”
Brad Schweikert, a junior studying marketing with a minor in German, studied abroad in Germany and Austria for the department of language. Schweikert said he learned a lot about both the Austrian culture and American culture by being abroad.
“It was my best semester so far,” Schweikert said. “Stepping back for four months, you start to learn things you like about your culture, you don’t like about your culture, and you learn how to communicate because you’re talking to people that are different from you.”
Schweikert also said he learned a lot about himself, like being more confident, on his trip.
“Being in a foreign country where people speak a different language and there’s different cultures, you’re trying to learn how to get around and do things and be on your own,” Schweikert said. “After accomplishing that, I feel like I can travel on my own now. I can try new things. I can meet new people. And I’m much more confident in that sort of way.”
Edmonds said the Office of Global Affairs and International Studies focuses the benefits of travel by presenting to students the value it will have to their educations. She also said that the ideas of embracing diversity, inclusion, equity and getting along with other community are important to her values.
“When you graduate, in the state of Ohio, one in five students will have a job that is a global focus,” Edmonds said. “When you begin to think about that, you realize that the world is really small nowadays. For you to be able to pursue no matter what career you want to pursue, you need a global education.”
Kondrit said studying in both Ghana and Finland has taught her the importance of experiential learning, and she can now apply that to her education skills and her future.
“I think it taught me a lot of cultural competency skills,” Kondrit said. “I think about things a lot more critically now as far as what I want my global presence to be, as well as how my actions are affecting the global world and not just my little world in Athens, Ohio, and or my own little personal bubble.”
Often money is not the barrier for students wanting to study abroad — OU has an array of scholarships available through programs to travel — but students often lack the confidence, knowledge or interest in what is available to them.
“It’s that step, that we’re really trying to profile more and more,” Edmonds said. “I’m a firm believer that we create in our academic programs the kinds of resources that you need in order for you to graduate with the potential to become a global leader, which is Ohio’s vision.”