By MADISON BENNETT
Western Michigan University is trying to double the number of its students who study abroad in five short years by creating new programs and scholarships.
WMU’s Study Abroad Office is taking part in a national initiative called Generation Study Abroad, which seeks to double the number of students from the United States studying in other countries. The initiative was launched in 2014, and WMU is working to achieve a 50 percent increase in participation by 2019.
Since launching taking part in the national initiative, WMU students studying abroad has grown to 572 from 498 — a 15 percent increase since the previous academic year according to the 2015 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange.
The Study Abroad Office is currently working on a new scholarship that will help students with the cost of airfare. It is also creating new short term, faculty-led programs, in which a WMU faculty member travels with students from anywhere between two weeks to two months. Study Abroad Outreach Coordinator Korey Force said these tend to be the most popular among students.
The programs range anywhere from $2,000 to $23,000, and Force says those figures include tuition, housing, meals, airfare, passport, visa, books, immunizations and more. WMU wants students to have an idea of how much the entire trip will cost before students begin the process of choosing and applying for programs.
For WMU student Kelly Tauschek, her trip to Italy in the fall of 2014 –– at nearly $23,000 — was the priciest study abroad program based on estimates provided. Tauschek says she was able to pay for her trip even before she left U.S. soil thanks to scholarships from her host university in Italy and from WMU as well as financial support from her family. Tauschek also says she was able to decrease the price of her trip because she already had a passport and she found cheaper versions of things in the WMU estimate, such as immunizations and airfare.
According to Force, the Study Abroad Office receives most of its scholarship money from foundations and private donations. Annually, WMU gives out $400,000 in scholarships to students participating in their study abroad programs. Force says that students are not aware of the magnitude of money that is available to them.
Western sophomore Brendan Sapato received almost $9,000 in WMU scholarships that will cover his trip to Burgos, Spain this fall. WMU’s estimated price for the trip to Burgos is just under $7,000.
WMU offers even more help monetarily through student’s financial aid, which many universities don’t allow to count toward study abroad, said Force.
Tauschek says that the scholarships she already received prior to the trip went toward her study abroad trip to Italy as well.
Tauschek is participating in another study abroad program and will be traveling to Ireland during spring break. Tauschek says the cost is estimated to be around $3,000 and that she is once again using resources offered by WMU to help cover the cost of the trip. She also says that her previous study abroad experience has allowed her to account for all expenses and has taught her how to spend her money wisely.
Force encourages students to study abroad due to the cognitive, academic and professional benefits. Statistics from University of California, Merced show that students GPA increased after studying abroad and participants are more likely to graduate in less time versus students that don’t participate in programs.
Patricia Montilla, associate professor of Spanish at Western Michigan, says that one of the things students always tell her when they return is that their time abroad allowed them to learn more about themselves.
That proved true for study abroad peer advisor Joshua Place. His trip to Germany in spring 2015 taught him how to take better care of myself. “I grew mentally, I learned what I did and didn’t like,” Place said. “I was just able to grasp life a little better, but in a more free sense.”