Tony Dang is a student at the University of Georgia, but his academic experience spans the globe: he taught English in Peru, interned in Greece and studied in Australia and New Zealand.
“I never thought about studying abroad before starting college, but my experiences abroad have shaped me more than I could have ever imagined,” Dang said. “I have met some truly incredible people and have learned more from them than I can in any classroom. Every experience has been extremely unique, and I have finished every trip a better person. I now would like to have an international career and have a desire to pay my fortunes forward in the future to minority students like me.”
Since UGA became one of the largest public universities to ensure that all undergraduates engage in a meaningful experiential learning opportunity in 2016, the Office of Global Engagement has expanded study abroad offerings to provide rigorous learning opportunities in a diverse array of fields. Through a new U.S. Department of State grant, the office is working to ensure that students of every background understand the advantages of study abroad and have access to it.
“There are so many opportunities for minority students, but there’s also a lack of awareness,” Dang said. “Making minority students aware of the resources available to them is the first step. Showing them that they are deserving of the opportunity and not to give up with a single rejection email is the next.”
Study abroad activities, which are available in more than 75 countries to UGA students, provide numerous benefits, including improving intercultural understanding, college performance and career preparation. Notably, students in the University System of Georgia, which includes UGA, boast an average 18% higher four-year graduation rate if they participate in a study abroad opportunity, according to study funded by the U.S. Department of Education. In that study, researchers found that the four-year graduation rate for African American students who participate in study abroad is 31% higher than their peers, yet they do not participate in study abroad as often as white students.
“Study abroad contributes to the academic success and personal growth of students, and the University of Georgia is working to ensure that all of our students understand the benefits it provides and the scholarships and other resources that can help put it within reach,” said S. Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.
Brian Watkins, director of international initiatives in the Office of Global Engagement, said that perceptions about the benefits and costs of overseas studies likely keep the participation down, as well as perceived cultural and social barriers. A range of financial assistance offerings can place opportunities within their reach, and Watkins aims to increase the awareness of those options.
“There are concrete academic benefits to study abroad, but many students aren’t aware of that,” said Watkins, the grant’s lead investigator. “We don’t want students to miss out on these life- and career-changing opportunities.”
Noel Fallows, the university’s associate provost for global engagement, noted that the new grant will allow for educational materials and training for counselors and advisors to show students how they can apply for scholarships and other opportunities.
“In addition to programming in partner high schools, the Office of Global Engagement plans to connect with prospective students in two college pathways programs at UGA: the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ Young Scholars Program and the Terry College of Business’ Business Academy,” Fallows said.
Natalie Morean, who recently graduated with an undergraduate degree and is currently enrolled as a master’s student in nonprofit management and leadership, participated in the Young Scholars program before she enrolled at UGA. While she was introduced to study abroad through that program, she originally thought that an internship would be a better fit for her experiential learning requirement; that is, until she learned about an intensive program in Ghana.
“I didn’t consider studying abroad at first, but I’m glad I eventually did,” Morean said, adding that the experience helped her grow academically and as a person. “I was part of a group of students who traveled throughout the country to conduct health screenings and give suggestions as to how the communities could improve their health through their diets.
“The people there were so influential on how I continue to see the world,” she said. “Being in a country so rich in history, culture, tradition and family life encouraged me to see the world more for what it is: diverse.”