Study abroad: Expanding your horizons

Study+abroad%3A+Expanding+your+horizons

By Abrar Al-Heeti

Expanding your horizons is part of the Illinois experience. One way to step outside your comfort zone, immerse yourself in a new environment and gain new experiences is through study abroad. 

The University offers study abroad programs that range from a semester of study to a year of study, as well as terms during winter and spring break. There are also internship opportunities and volunteer components offered through certain programs that students can partake in.

“Whatever you want to get out of it, you can find it,” said Amanda Toledo, program assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office.

Toledo said studying abroad was a valuable experience that gave her a new perspective on classes in her major.

“For me, it was the fact that it complemented my studies in ways that I couldn’t get here,” she said. “I was an English major — I went to England, took a (Shakespeare) class in my major so I was still getting requirements done, and then on the weekends I got to go see Shakespeare’s grave and go to the Globe Theatre — just things that can complement your education in ways that you can’t get here.”

Area Adviser Kara Porter said the benefits of studying abroad reach a personal level beyond the academic component. 

“From both my experience as an adviser and a study abroad returnee, study abroad also provides personal growth opportunity, so students are challenged in ways that they aren’t challenged here by living in the U.S.,” Porter said. “So students gain so much more independence, they gain responsibility, even navigation skills that they wouldn’t here.” 

The Study Abroad Office holds general information sessions three times a week during the school year, where students can obtain more in-depth information.

“We also welcome students into the resource room,” said Program Assistant Katie Kuhl. “We do a lot of one-on-one work with students to help them figure out what type of program they want to go on.”

The Study Abroad Office also participates in the Study Abroad Fair, which is usually held four times a year in the Union. Area advisers are present, students can ask any questions they have as they gather general information and scholarship information is provided.

“We give out tons of scholarships, over $850,000 a year,” said Toledo. “We have a couple that we usually recommend to students, but one of them is the I for I Scholarship, and that’s a student fee that students pay … and all that money basically goes into a pot, and we have to give it out every single year.”

The scholarship is both merit- and need-based, but is also aimed at underrepresented groups, which Toledo said include minorities as well as men, “who are surprisingly underrepresented in study abroad.”

Such scholarships can significantly help with the costs of studying abroad and make the experience more attainable for many.

To find out more about study abroad and the programs offered, visit http://www.studyabroad.illinois.edu/

Abrar is a junior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]