Elmhurst College: Partnership Opens New Routes to Study Abroad

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Partnership Opens New Routes to Study Abroad

More than 200 Elmhurst students spent at least part of the most recent school year studying, performing or working on service projects abroad. Now, as a partner in a national initiative called Generation Study Abroad, the College has committed to doubling the number of its students who participate in study-abroad experiences each year.

Generation Study Abroad is a program of the Institute of International Education (IIE), which aims to make it possible for 600,000 U.S. students to study abroad annually. Elmhurst is one of more than 300 colleges and universities participating in Generation Study Abroad.

“This initiative puts teeth into the College’s mission to graduate globally proficient citizens,” said Alice Niziolek, the College’s director of international education. “It is an extension of our newly affirmed commitment to expose our students to a variety of cultures in a number of different ways, including recruiting students from other countries to study at Elmhurst and sending students abroad who then bring back different perspectives to the campus community.”

International study is an increasingly popular option for students at Elmhurst and other American colleges. The IIE says that the number of Americans studying abroad has grown 150 percent in the last decade. The range of experiences open to those students also has grown dramatically. Not long ago, international study typically meant a junior-year excursion to Rome or Vienna or some other Western culture capital. Today, the options are much more diverse.

In the last year alone, Elmhurst students studied in 30 different countries on six continents. Some spent a few weeks abroad, others an entire year. Many volunteered their talents and labor in hospitals, high schools and Habitat for Humanity housing sites in other countries. Others, like the members of the Elmhurst College Jazz Band, travel the world to entertain international audiences. In 2013, the band played the acclaimed Nisville Jazz Festival and other tour dates in Serbia.

Yet despite the growing popularity of international study, the IIE reports that only 10 percent of the 2.6 million students graduating from American colleges with baccalaureate or associate’s degrees each year study abroad.

To do its part to enable more students to study abroad, Niziolek said, the College has committed to developing new revenue streams to support international study. It has already established the Wally Lagerwey Endowed Scholarship for Study Abroad. The College is also developing new partnerships, like one with University College Dublin, making it possible to send for the first time a group of 11 nursing students there for the Fall 2014 term.

Other objectives include promoting study abroad for traditionally underrepresented groups; exploring the feasibility of a new fee structure that would provide students with a guaranteed fund for study abroad; and supporting faculty with innovative plans for incorporating international studying into existing curricula.

“Studying abroad develops skills that future employers and graduate schools are looking for,” Niziolek said. “There really is almost no such thing as a career that doesn’t have a global aspect to it.”

She encourages students to undertake research abroad and to include a semester- or year-long study abroad experience in their time at Elmhurst when possible. The College already requires students who study abroad for a term or a year to complete a cultural engagement assignment, such as volunteer service, an internship or research.

“Students who have studied abroad have consistently reported that it was the single most important decision they made at Elmhurst, personally, academically and professionally,” Niziolek said. “They report that the experience helped them better define or even change altogether the career they thought they wanted.”

Elmhurst’s international education efforts are incorporated, along with its service-learning and career-development programs, in its Center for Professional Excellence.

“We don’t just talk about the importance of being a global citizen,” said the center’s executive director, Larry Carroll. “We give our students a whole range of ways to prepare for a changing world. We hope that more and more will be able to make study abroad part of their personal development and professional preparation.”

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