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One factor that may be driving the popularity of studying abroad is its personal economic benefit. In a recent survey of graduates, the Institute of International Education of Students found that 97 percent of students who studied abroad found work within a year of graduation, while only 49 percent of students who did not study abroad found employment. They also found that the average starting salary for students who studied abroad was $7,000 higher than that of students who did not.
Of the places students go to study, England is the most popular destination, according to Lynn Elliott, director of International Study Programs at BYU.
“England is probably the most popular because there isn’t really a language barrier,” Elliott said.
Katy Watkins, a senior at BYU studying linguistics, went on a language study abroad to England.
“When I heard about the study abroad, I thought, ‘That is exactly what I need for my major,'” Watkins said. “I got to learn how to talk to people and ask them questions without being awkward. It was really cool to see that I had learned something by going out and applying it. Seeing all of the cool things in Britain was really cool, but learning the things I wanted to learn was the really rewarding part.”
The second-most-popular study abroad destination at BYU is the Jerusalem Center. James Kearl, assistant to the university president for the Jerusalem Center, commented on its unique appeal.
“There simply isn’t any better integration of secular and spiritual learning available at BYU than the Jerusalem Center’s programs, where students study the Old and New Testament, Ancient History, Modern Near Eastern History and Culture (both Palestinian/Muslim and Israeli/Jewish) and language and culture (Arabic or Hebrew),” Kearl said. “Students return with strengthened testimonies and deeper understanding of the Old and New Testament, a far more sophisticated understanding of the challenges to world peace, of the religious and political cross currents in the Middle East and, lastly, an appreciation that can only be developed by living in the Middle East of the richness of Jewish and Arab histories and cultures.”
Spain is the third-most-popular study abroad destination for BYU students. Elliott thinks Spain is so popular because Spanish is the second-most-spoken language on the BYU campus, due to the quantity of students who learned Spanish on missions.
Sarah Chamberlain, a recent graduate of the BYU broadcast journalism program, participated in the Spain study abroad. She chose to go because she loves the culture.
“I am part Mexican, so I have always felt a connection with Spanish culture,” she said. “One of the most fascinating parts of the experience was learning about the history of the church in Spain. We got to learn about the first missionaries in Spain and also how the temple was built there. The coolest thing about it all was we were actually able to see, feel and experience the things we were learning about.”
The fourth-most-popular study abroad destination for BYU students is China. According to Elliot, there are many educational opportunities in China including, but not limited to, engineering, life sciences research, and language. China has increased in popularity as a study abroad destination because of its growing global influence with increasing literacy rates and an economy growing at more than 9 percent every year, according to UNICEF.
The fifth top study abroad destination for BYU students is France. “You don’t have to know a ton of French to make it in most of the France study programs,” Elliott said. “France is nice because it is centrally located, so you can visit a lot of other countries as well.”
Lucas Jones traveled to France to study as an intern.
“What I got from my internship was not only valuable international work experience but priceless cultural and social experience,” he said. “I am pursuing a career in foreign affairs. My international experience will be vital to my future.”