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Easy 'A' abroad

By Caitlin Huston, Daily News Editor
Published October 16, 2011

Surrounded by towering cathedrals, LSA junior Sabriye Gill sat outside a local café in the warm winter weather of Seville, Spain sipping coffee and watching bronzed Spanish cosmopolites walk by.

Far from the crammed book bags and mountainous snow banks of Ann Arbor, Gill seemed to be on a dream vacation, complete with weekend traveling and three homemade meals each day. But like many University students who study abroad each year, this was her campus and she was earning academic credit.

As students take classes in the Grecian sun or even on a cruise ship, the question remains: Are they learning as much as their classmates in Ann Arbor?

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Though the sidewalks of Ann Arbor are filled with students rushing to class during the academic year, 1,975 of those University students studied abroad from fall 2009 to summer 2010, according to data from the Institute of International Education.

Mark Tessler, vice provost for international affairs and the Samuel J. Eldersveld collegiate professor of political science, said he believes study abroad is an important part of any student’s academic career.

Tessler said the University is expanding its study abroad programs, reaching out to countries like Egypt and Israel and looking to place students on continents other than Europe.

President Mary Sue Coleman also places an emphasis on study abroad as she deferred her pay raise this year of 2.75 percent, a total of $15,678, to scholarships she and her husband set up to help students study abroad. Coleman has also pledged to donate $1 for every $2 donated for study abroad as part of the President’s Donor Challenge for The Student Global Experience.

Recently, Coleman announced the creation of the Third Century Initiative, a $50 million program which aims to further “immersive learning experiences,” including study abroad, for undergraduates.

With these programs in place, Tessler said he hopes more students will study abroad.

Tessler speaks from personal experience, having studied abroad in Israel and Tunisia as a student, when he says he believes the experience is life changing.

“You learn a lot about yourself. You learn a lot about the rest of the world,” Tessler said. “I suppose these are kind of like clichés, but it’s true.”

And while Tessler acknowledges the academic caliber of the colleges may not be as high as the University’s, he said it depends on the students’ desire to learn and the quality of the institution.

“I would say as a general proposition you don’t sacrifice academic quality, but maximizing the academic excellence of a program isn’t necessarily the only thing to take in consideration when you make the choice (between programs),” Tessler said.

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With five Spanish classes at the Universidad de Sevilla and doing homework during the week, Gill said she had a schedule that was harder than her classmates’. But even with the workload, she spent afternoons at coffee shops with friends, and the academics of the University seemed far away.

“It wasn’t the same at all. It was less work,” Gill said.

Beyond academics, Gill said the program was more about the experience of living in Spain, absorbing Spanish culture, speaking the language and understanding the Spanish education system — where the true test of a course is a 20-page paper due the last day in lieu of mandatory attendance.

In addition to an increased proficiency in Spanish and a newfound interest in an international career, Gill said she also grew more independent — when a train ticket almost left her stranded in Rome.

“You really have to rely on yourself.


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