More Pacific students opting for passage abroad

By LeeAnn Kriegh ’94

Pacific students are studying abroad in record numbers, encouraged by the University’s enthusiastic support and by flexible new options that make the experiences more accessible and more affordable than ever before.

“In my view, one of the most important elements of higher education for all students should be international education,” said John Hayes, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Hayes’ view reflects that of the University and President Phil Creighton, who has made study abroad one of the College’s four cornerstones, along with student-faculty research, internships, and community service.

“Peace and prosperity in the 21st century depend on increasing the capacity of people to think and work on a global and intercultural basis. As technology opens borders, educational, and professional exchange opens minds.”

-Institute of International Education

“Pacific’s mission includes preparing students for ‘service to a changing community, nation, and world.’ We also place emphasis on putting theory into practice,” said Hayes. “What better way to translate classroom education into practice than by sending students on a full-spectrum study-abroad experience?”

According to Stephen Prag, director of international programs, over 160 Pacific students plan to study abroad during the 2005-2006 school year. Records have not been kept long enough to declare the enrollment an all-time high, but Prag said the numbers certainly reflect a continuing upswing in student interest that mirrors the nationwide trend. According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), the number of students studying abroad for credit has increased 145 percent nationwide since 1990, despite various deterrents such as the SARS epidemic and the increased threat of terrorism.

In contrast, extended study-abroad experiences (those lasting a semester or full year) are becoming less popular nationwide. The IIE reports that more than half of all students who study abroad participate in programs lasting just eight weeks or less. Hayes said Pacific bucks that trend by lending support and assistance with finances and the transferring of academic credits – issues that might otherwise deter student participation in long-term programs.

Perhaps as a result of the assistance, 12 percent more Pacific students studied abroad for an extended period in 2004-2005, as compared to the year prior. During the 2005-2006 school year, nearly 40 percent of all study abroad experiences will be long-term. Australia, Spain and France are the most popular destinations, and students will also travel to more exotic locales such as China, Ecuador, and Ghana.

Viola Wilbanks ’05 spent several weeks studying abroad in London and Belize as part of two Winter III classes, but she said nothing compared to her recent full-year experience in Granada, Spain, during which she developed her Spanish language skills while living with a host family.

“It takes a certain amount of time just to adjust to cultural and linguistic differences,” she said. “It’s only after you adjust that you can start having fun and really living in a place, as opposed to just enjoying the honeymoon stage.”

Shorter study-abroad experiences remain popular, however, particularly those that occur during Pacific’s unique January term, called Winter III. According to Prag, at least 100 Pacific students plan to study abroad in the upcoming Winter III term. Previous January courses have included experiences in Austria, Costa Rica, India, London, Mexico, Spain, and Zambia. Hayes said these shorter trips are of particular value to the University’s many science students.

“Traditionally, because of hierarchical course sequences, studying abroad has been more difficult for our science students,” he said. “Consequently, we try to make available numerous short-term, intensive, study abroad options.” Each year, about 30 Pacific students participate in for-credit science programs in Costa Rica and Belize, and Hayes said he would like to see more of these science-based programs – as well as all other types of study-abroad experiences – made available in the near future.

“Over the course of a four-year education, about 30 percent of Pacific students receive credit for studying abroad. We would like to see that rise to at least 50 percent,” Hayes said. “I think we do our students a disservice – and offer a less than full education – if we do not support a curriculum with rich international components.”

Wilbanks said she certainly believes her personal education was enriched by her overseas experience. “If you want to find out more about who you are and what you’re about, there’s no better way than studying abroad,” she said.
And, at a time when the IIE reports the number of international students studying in the U.S. declined for the first time since the 1971-1972 school year, Wilbanks said she also sees far-reaching implications for study abroad. “I know it’s idealistic,” she said, “but I really think if more people went to other countries and fell in love with the people and customs, there’d just be fewer problems in the world.”