Study abroad programs see record enrollment

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Danielle Cronquist standing in front of the Eiffel Tower during a Winter 2012 study abroad in Paris, France.
Danielle Cronquist stands in front of the Eiffel Tower during a Winter 2012 study abroad in Paris.

BYU study abroad programs experience fluctuations in interest, frequency and commonality. But the diversity in culture, language and traditions on the BYU campus may be more abundant than many realize.

BYU has one of the largest selections of study abroad programs of any U.S. university, offering 133 different programs in 55 countries, according to yfacts.byu.edu.

Lynn Elliott, director of BYU’s international study programs, said there were over 1,000 BYU students studying abroad during 2015 Spring Term. “This is the highest number of BYU students studying abroad at one time ever,” Elliott said.

Study abroad destinations range from Italy and London to Australia and New Zealand. Students can embark on term- or semester-long programs or intern for 11–12 weeks in a foreign country. Students can also complete additional studies required for their major while overseas.

Seventeen percent of BYU students participate in a study abroad program. Almost 100 faculty members participate in directing the international study programs and almost 200 faculty members act as mentors for students studying abroad.

Students’ choices in study abroad programs differ, but there are no statistics indicating which study abroad programs are more popular at a given time and how the programs rank over time.

Elliott said that areas such as Austria and Italy fluctuate in popularity, while other areas remain consistently popular.  “Sometimes you see a spike in interest because of world events,” Elliott said, “Like the increase in Arabic students after 9/11 or the interest in England because of ‘Downton Abbey.'”

Elliott said London, England is consistently one of the most popular destinations for BYU students.

Elliott could not explain the changing trends across the study abroad programs. The statistics only prove that fluctuations happen among all the programs, not just the most or least popular.

“Austria used to be one of our primary destinations, and although we still have very good programs there, we have seen the numbers going to Austria decline while students going to other areas, like Russia, have increased,” Elliott said. “These kinds of trends happen with pretty much all of our programs across the world.”

Some BYU students choose study abroad programs linked to their family history, knowledge of language or past travel experiences.

BYU has almost 2,000 international students, and more than 6 percent of all BYU students have multicultural backgrounds. Most of BYU’s international students come from the Far East. There are also many students attending BYU from Central America and Mexico, South America and Canada.

According to BYU demographics, 70 percent of BYU students speak two languages and more than 55 percent of BYU classes are offered in a foreign language.  Forty-six percent of BYU students have lived outside of the United States for a year or more.

Elliott said students’ diverse backgrounds are sometimes a factor in choosing a study abroad program. He said there are always students who want new experiences and who “vary so much in their backgrounds and desires.”

Some programs allow students to complete student teaching for their early education degree, while others give students the opportunity to teach music in different countries. The study abroad programs help students accomplish their degree’s requirements during the program.

“More and more students are going on programs specifically tied to majors than on more general education programs,” Elliott said. “But even in this case, some general education programs are still very strong.”

The Berlin study abroad program gives business, marketing, management and finance students an opportunity to intern in design, parliament, banking, communications, tourism and many other fields. Students can complete the study abroad experience while finishing the internship required for their major.

Elliott still encouraged students to take GE credit overseas. The Cambridge study abroad offer students an enhancement of typical general education studies. Students can obtain GE credits while taking classes in “Cambridge style” and touring sights such as Bath, Stonehenge and Oxford.

“We have also seen students tend to choose shorter, term-length programs over semester-length programs, which is perhaps a little unfortunate since there are real advantages to being overseas for an entire semester, not to mention that the daily cost is cheaper for a longer program,” Elliott said.

Some study abroad programs cost about $1,500 while other programs, like the Cambridge program, can reach prices up to $8,000.

Elliott said economic trends do not affect study abroad trends any more than they do students choosing to go to college. He said study abroad students see the value and are willing to make economic sacrifices.

Study abroad programs often offer professor-student interactions that are more personalized than typical university courses. The programs also place students in a new environment, free from the usual college distractions. Many programs also allow students to explore new cultures.

“(Study abroad programs) typically give students more interaction with professors and tend to get participants more excited about the topics studied,” Elliott said.

Study abroad programs may vary and fluctuate in terms of which programs students are choosing, but they are certainly not losing their popularity for BYU students. Over 900 students studied abroad during the 2015 spring term. There were also about 100 students overseas with a performing group and 70 students at the Jerusalem Center.

Elliott also said he believes study abroad programs create better students. “In general, students who study abroad do better on grades,” Elliott said. “We like to think that it’s because of the study abroad experience, but it might be because better students go on study abroad.”

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