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'U' study abroad

Illustration by Alicia Kovalcheck
Illustration by Alicia Kovalcheck Buy this photo

By Alicia Adamczyk, Daily News Editor
Published February 26, 2013

When it comes to academic programs, few other public institutions match the quality of the University’s: The undergraduate business, engineering and political science programs are just a handful of the University’s that rank in the top 10 across the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report rankings.

But there’s one component of the University’s repertoire that may not stand up to the gold — well, maize and blue — standard, at least according to many students: the study abroad programs. While higher education puts more and more of an emphasis on an international perspective — in fact, University President Mary Sue Coleman listed a Global Initiative to expand the study abroad program as one of her major goals in her Five Years Forward address in 2007 — the University’s study abroad program leaves something to be desired, said LSA junior Abigail Cook, who is currently studying abroad in Paris, France through IES Abroad, an independent study abroad agency.

“Overall, I'm extremely disappointed with Michigan's study abroad programs,” Cook said in an e-mail interview. “Most of the Michigan students I know abroad have chosen other programs because Michigan either didn't offer a program or the program was very expensive.”

It makes sense that Cook, an Art History major, would want to study in Paris, a city long famed for its artistic environment. Though the University does offer programs in the City of Light, Cook said she still wasn’t able to find what she was looking for in an overseas program.

“It makes me a little sad because I wish I could be supporting Michigan,” she said.

But that’s not to say the University doesn’t offer a wide range of programs. In fact, there are an overwhelming number of programs, with different study abroad offices stemming from each University college. In the LSA study abroad repertoire, there are currently 70 Michigan Global Academic Programs and Spring/Summer Language Programs in more than 30 countries around the world available to students, and the Center for Global and Intercultural Study — the LSA study abroad office — is constantly expanding and refining the programs.

Two programs — Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates and Global Course Connections — also change dramatically every year since University professors apply to lead the specific trips. This year, there were nine GIEU programs and eight GCC programs, in destinations such as Israel, South Korea, Kenya and Ecuador.

According to Rae Yung, a communications specialist for CGIS, of the 1,946 University students who earned academic credit abroad between fall 2010 and summer 2011, 743 went abroad through a CGIS-sponsored program. But this number doesn’t factor in students who went abroad through the programs in other colleges across campus, illustrating the decentralized nature of the University’s study abroad programs.

Multiple departments and colleges around campus have their own study abroad programs and offices. This includes LSA, the School of Art & Design, the College of Engineering, the School of Kinesiology, the School of Nursing, the Ross School of Business and various graduate-level programs. There are Global Health Programs available, as well as options for students in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the Ford School that only students in the respective school can attend.

Because of this decentralized approach, there are no figures available for average program costs, percentage of students who have studied abroad before graduation or comprehensive information on which programs are direct exchange, Yung said.

So, in an undergraduate career at the University, what percentage of students study abroad and through what programs? According to CGIS, the answer is unknown.

“For one thing, a completely unknown number of students go through third-party providers on their own,” she said. “For another, UM doesn't really have a central study abroad office, and each study abroad department reports their numbers slightly differently.”

Comparatively, Joseph Brockington, the associate provost for international programs at Kalamazoo College — which is consistently ranked as having one of the top study abroad programs in the country — wrote in an e-mail that more than half of Kalamazoo College students study abroad through trips sponsored by the school.

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LSA sophomore Katy Gresock plans to study abroad in Barcelona through International Studies Abroad in the fall. Like Cook, she was disappointed with the University’s program offerings.

After visiting the study abroad office for advice on program options for her junior year, Gresock said her adviser handed her numerous pamphlets and program books, and then left her to make a decision.

“(The adviser) told me that transferring credits would be easier through (University) programs, but they tend to be slightly more expensive,” she said.


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