By: Keri Luise, Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of Amanda Jean Thomas
The Towson University Study Abroad Office received a “Going Places!” award from partner CISabroad in June 2017 for their actions to “broaden academic perspectives, encourage student development and promote global awareness through its innovative work in education abroad.”
“We signed a commitment called Generation Study Abroad, which is a national campaign through the Institute for International Education,” said Associate Director of Study Abroad Katherine Villamar. “We signed that commitment in 2014, and we pledged to increase our number by 40 percent by the year 2020, and we met that goal last year actually, so we’re three years ahead of schedule.”
222 students studied abroad in the summer semester of 2017. This was Towson’s largest group ever to study abroad in a single term. Through a focus on increased funding, access, curriculum and integration, TU has pushed students towards studying abroad.
Senior Amanda Jean Thomas studied abroad in London during the minimester 2017 term on the Corporate Communication in the UK faculty-led program. Thomas is one of four peer advisors in the Study Abroad office.
“I think some of the biggest factors going into more students studying abroad is the office’s initiative to try and break down a lot of myths students have about studying abroad,” Thomas said. “Many students think that it’s too expensive when it doesn’t have to be a costly experience to have. We offer over 700 program options including out TU Exchange programs which cost Towson tuition and fees to study for a semester or academic year overseas.”
The study abroad program at Towson, TU Abroad, focused on increasing participation specifically from underrepresented students as part of their initiative to increase the number of students abroad. These students include first-generation college students, students with disabilities, people of color, certain majors, athletes, non-traditionally aged students, students coming from community colleges, students who have children and LGBTQ+ students.
There is also a new scholarship called the TU Institutional Diversity Study Abroad Scholarship to encourage diverse populations to study abroad.
Faculty-led programs are popular among students because of their short length and ability to fit into student schedules. They can be as short as a week during spring break or as long as six weeks in the summer or winter. According to Villamar, last year there were over 20 faculty-led programs.
These programs help increase the ability of students in specific colleges to go overseas. Study abroad participation has tripled in the College of Education, and nearly doubled in the College of Health Professions.
“Having gone on a faculty-led program, for me, the appeal was that it was a short term program,” Thomas said. “I didn’t have to take a full semester out of my academic plan to go abroad. For intensive majors and minors that require a strict academic plan on campus at Towson, short-term programs can be the best way to get to experience going abroad. They are also a little more structured, often having excursions to the tourist attractions in the country the program is in.”
Villamar also talked about the fact that faculty-led programs help students get credits completed.
“When a student does a faculty-led program, they’re getting a Towson course, so it fits into their curriculum and they know exactly how it’s going to fit in,” Villamar said. “When they go on other types of programs, a lot of times the credits are coming in as kind of like transfer credits, and they have to get them approved. So, it’s just more straightforward in terms of credits.”
Other TU Study Abroad programs include TU exchanges, TU programs and non-TU programs.
The TU exchanges can be a semester or yearlong program where students pay Towson tuition to the University, and go study abroad at a partner institution. Towson has 18 of these exchange programs.
“This is a really nice option for students, who are very concerned about finances, because it’s not an additional term, they’re already going to be studying here for a fall or a spring and they’re paying their regular Towson tuition,” Villamar said. “This is a more independent model for students, but I think it’s a really great one, because they’re generally living with local students, you know, they’re taking classes with locals at a foreign institution.”
Thomas agreed; she also indicated the cost-effectiveness of the TU Exchange program.
“I think the TU Exchange programs appeal to students looking for the most cost effective way to go abroad as well as having total independence,” Thomas said. “With TU Exchanges, students are sent to a foreign institution to study and do as they please. There’s no built in excursions or anything like that, leaving their experience completely up to what they want to get out the their time abroad. They could be the only Towson student abroad or one of a few Towson students at that institution for the semester.”
The TU programs have a similar structure to the exchange programs, but the price varies generally between in-state and out-of-state tuition.
“We also have in this type of program, our TU Global internship program, where students can go abroad in the summer or for a semester, but generally they only do the summer, to intern abroad,” Villamar said. “We’re seeing a lot of students interested in that…. This is a really nice was to highlight yourself when you’re applying to that first job right out of college.”
Non-TU programs are programs offered through approved affiliate study abroad providers, and they help fill the gaps in areas of the world where TU doesn’t have its own programs.
TU Abroad has reached its target growth goal, but is continuing on doing outreach to encourage more students to study abroad.
“We’ve developed more of these faculty- led programs and had faculty doing more outreach within their departments,” Villamar said. “We created a new institutional diversity scholarship as part of our Generation Study Abroad Initiative. We’re doing more outreach with the Center for Student Diversity to try to diversify the types of students that are going overseas. We’re working with a lot of departments across campus.”
Thomas reflected on her own experiences studying abroad and indicated the positives that can come from it.
“Going abroad, there are the chances to do things you couldn’t do simply going to a country on your own as a tourist,” Thomas said. “You get to learn from professionals in your field internationally or take courses that are unique to the area in which you’re studying; things that you couldn’t do staying on campus all four years. You build connections with other students or faculty abroad which can help you in the future.”