The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Study abroad offers students passports to global education

4 min read
By HOLDEN VANDERVEER One of the newest ways the Center for International Education is helping University of Mary Washington students gain the most from a study abroad experience is by offering a new focused list of programs.
Jiuguang Wang/ Flickr


One of the newest ways the Center for International Education is helping University of Mary Washington students gain the most from a study abroad experience is by offering a new focused list of programs.

“This year, starting in the spring, we started a new portfolio of programs. Prior to that, our students could go anywhere in the world, like an open door policy, but we found that was pretty daunting for many students,” study abroad coordinator Leslie Leahy said. “So we came together and found the best of the programs that we have, and so now they are part of what is called a portfolio of approved programs.”

An estimated 30 percent of UMW students participate in study abroad programs. The university’s study abroad office offers many ways for students to pursue their education in a foreign country.

One of the approved programs includes the Budapest Semester in Mathematics for those interesting in studying math in Europe. Additionally, the University of Canterbury in New Zealand offers programs for those studying music, while students interested in studying in Asia can enroll in programs at Sungshin University in Seoul, Korea or at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, China.

The department also provides faculty-run programs, such as an environmental science program in South Africa with Melanie Szulczewski, assistant professor of earth and environmental studies. The program will take place in Cape Town, South Africa during this coming winter break. Later in the year, geography professor Dawn Bowen will lead students on the UMW in Guatemala program during spring break of 2015.

The CIE’s website organizes the list of approved programs using three different methods.  Students can search for programs based on their major or based on their preferred destination. Additionally, students with interest in specific programs can bypass the other two methods and find programs by name.

Students can contact the international offices of different schools and apply to the programs directly, apply for the programs through a third party organization or the student can join a professor on a faculty-led program.  With so many pathways to choose from, the CIE is also always available to help guide students.

“As far as organizations go, I think the Center for International Education is probably one of the best that I have worked through on campus simply because everybody knows each other’s name, they will greet you by name as soon as you come in the door,” creative writing major Avery Kopp said.  “They want you involved, they want you participating, so that’s really nice to be involved with something like that.”

Kopp studied literature at Kingston University in London and applied for the program through a third party organization called Global Links. While at Kingston, Kopp experienced a different academic system. According to Kopp, unlike at UMW, students at Kingston only attended class twice a week, once for an hour-long lecture and once for an hour seminar. She described the programs there as being more focused, requiring one to already have a plan for what he or she wants to pursue as their degree.

“It sort of made me appreciate both [systems] equally. It was nice being exposed to a different system,” Kopp said.

Lauren Bortfeld, senior Spanish major and student peer adviser at the CIE, said she believes the new portfolio will improve the study abroad process.

“It’s more efficient this way as well because students can come in and tell me, ‘I am this major, and I want to go here for this long,’ and I can narrow things down based on the list of programs we have, rather than say ‘oh well look at our stuff,’” Bortfeld said. “We actually have a real organized list.”

Bortfeld spent a semester in Ecuador at an academy designed to teach foreigners Spanish. She spent her time there with a host family while she learned about the local culture.

“I gained a new perspective, international perspective, as well as a new perspective on my own country, so I have definitely grown from this experience,” Bortfeld said.

Bortfeld encourages students to go out and study in another country that is important to their field.

In his sophomore year, junior physics major Zaire Sprowal had an opportunity to join his anthropology professor on a trip to Guyana in South America. The trip was part of a faculty-led program that happens every two years.  While in Guyana, Sprowal lived for six weeks in an indigenous village.

“When you leave the country, and you see other people in the world living and doing life things different ways, but they’re living just a regularly as you, it’s a very eye opening experience,” Sprowal said. “You get more appreciative of some of the stuff that you might take for granted, but also realize there is a lot of stuff there.”

Study abroad programs have existed before the CIE, but in recent years the center has seen an increase in faculty-led programs and is starting to see more students consider pursuing their education internationally.