Study Abroad scatters Illini to schools around the world

By Bonnie Stiernberg

Before Rebekah Zale took her first steps onto the Quad as a freshman, she knew Champaign-Urbana wouldn’t be the only place where she’d spend her undergraduate years.

Zale, a junior in LAS, is currently studying in Barcelona after discovering a program at the annual Study Abroad Fair. This year’s fair will take place on Sept. 4 at the Illini Media Center beginning at 11:00 a.m.

Zale said she had a clear idea of where she wanted to study when she walked into the Study Abroad Fair two years ago.

“I knew I was going to study abroad when I was a junior,” Zale said. “I had been studying Spanish all through high school, so I knew I was going to elect a Spanish-speaking country.”

However, Sarah Gleisner, outreach coordinator for the Study Abroad Office, said the fair isn’t necessarily geared toward students who already have specific plans.

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“We have people who show up and have absolutely no idea, and that’s perfectly okay and perfectly welcome,” she said. “If they don’t know what the University of Illinois has to offer or aren’t really sure, they’re welcome to come by and ask as many questions as they want.”

Lauren Metz, senior in LAS, spent last spring in the south of France, and she said she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Metz said. “I’m so glad I did it. I met so many incredible people, and it gave me the opportunity to travel.”

Like Metz, Zale said she has been extremely happy with her experiences abroad.

“It is absolutely amazing,” she said. “The best thing about studying abroad is that one really gets a chance to learn about his or herself. You’re put in situations that test your independence and self-confidence.”

This year’s fair will include a larger lineup of programs and options, including a new scholarship, Gleisner said.

“We’ve broadened our lineup in terms of programs,” she said. “Last year, Illinois students passed a referendum to offer a new scholarship, ‘Illinois for Illinois.’ Now undergraduates are financing a study abroad scholarship.”

“Illinois for Illinois” will offer about $250,000 a year and will be given out to 100 students. Awards will range from $500 to $5000.

Gleisner said students should examine all options before they rule out a semester abroad.

“Come talk to us,” she said. “There are various reasons that people list, but more often than not, once we can sit down and figure out why someone’s unsure – whether it’s cost or they’re not sure what credits or courses will transfer, or maybe they’re worried about being away from Champaign – usually when we sit down and talk about those things, it becomes much clearer why they should.”

Zale agreed that everyone should consider studying overseas.

“If you’re on the fence about studying abroad, just take a second to look around you, then take another second to think of how much else there is in this world,” she said.

Gleisner recommends that students come to the fair with some idea of where they want to go or what courses to take, but Metz said it’s important to weigh all the options.

“Go in with an open mind, no expectations and a lot of confidence in yourself, and you never know what you’ll find,” Gleisner said.