“Just go away!” is the motto of University of Maryland’s study abroad office in an effort to get more UMD students outside their comfort zone and into another country.
While the message may seem aggressive, it’s really just a catchy way to fulfill a university promise made by past Maryland president Dr. C.D. Mote. According to the Office of International Programs, “Beginning in Fall 2005, the university committed to provide every incoming student with the opportunity for a unique educational experience in addition to his or her major.” Mote said he believed that every student should go abroad before he or she graduated in order to interact with the age of globalization.
Many students at UMD choose to study abroad for a semester but as a transfer student who did not have time in my academic schedule to leave for four months, I found that taking two three-week international minimesters broadened my horizons considerably.
I was inspired to return to South America after my experience in the winter of 2011 taking “Chilean Literature, Democracy and Social Change.”
Then, in January, I took a sociology class entitled “Exploring Brazil Through Work, Culture and Race.” We traveled to Florianopolis, an island of Brazil that is home to over 40 gorgeous beaches. As it was their summer season, not only did I get to learn in a classroom setting, but I also had the opportunity to explore unique offshore experiences such as surfing at Praia Mole.
Although the trip wasn’t what I expected with an overload of technology and economics related coursework, I found that the most rewarding aspect of the trip was the experiential portion in finding out how different Brazilians worked. I was able to see the inner operations of an oyster harvesting farm, tour a nonprofit organization’s lovingly prepared home for underprivileged children, and meet fishermen that hauled in their catch as a tight knit community.
In the winter of 2012, University of Maryland’s study abroad office offered 42 short-term programs. These three week international excursions into cultural competency range from “Sustainable Tropical Ecosystems” in Costa Rica to “Sexual and Gender Diversity Movements” in Mexico to “Doing Business in Thailand: Social Value Creation and Corporate Responsibility.”
Regions in South America, the Caribbean, Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia have all been offered within the past five years at UMD. Public health, government and politics, education, art history, architecture and geography are only a few examples of the courses offered.
So what are the advantages of studying abroad for three weeks when many college students elect to take an international study for a whole semester?
If you have a rigorous course load
Many majors at UMD require classes that must be taken in sequential order with few allowances made for those who may want to travel. Arjun Kanwal, a UMD junior neurobiology and physiology major, would have had to stay in school for another semester if he took 4 months off to study abroad.
“Our winter break is so long, so I was able to go for almost three weeks and really get a full study abroad experience,” Kanwal said.
An avid traveler, Kanwal had previously explored many countries but had never been to South America. The chance to take a non-science based class was also an allure to take the sociology winter term section in Brazil.
“Because I’m a neurophysiology major, I don’t have much time to take classes like sociology,” Kanwal said. “I am very interested in learning about other cultures, but just haven’t had the opportunity to take many [other kinds of] classes at Maryland.”
Traveling without uprooting your life
Philip Redway, a UMD junior sociology major, is classified as a non-traditional student who has been continuously enrolled in university studies for more than 4 years due to a challenging work schedule. Studying abroad for three weeks worked with Redway’s schedule because it wasn’t too disruptive on his routine.
“Studying abroad for a winter term worked for me because it meant I did not need to be away from my job too long, and I wouldn’t lose too much income,” said Redway. “It is hard enough to tell your employer that you will be gone for two and a half weeks, let alone a few months.”
The course also reinforced his sociology classes in the systematic way that this realm of academia studies vast groups of people.
“Sociology majors study the way society works and that is exactly what we did in Brazil,” said Redway. “The course reinforced information that I have studied in the past.”
Redway also stated that living alongside Brazilians is a much different experience than merely reading about them or having lectures.
“You come away from studying abroad with an understanding that people in distant locations are not too different from yourself,” said Redway.
Paving a career and getting a life changing experience
Senior UMD environmental science and policy major Racquel Segall had never been out of the country before her 2011 winter term study abroad in South Africa. The public health course was focused on HIV/AIDS and apartheid, exposing Segall to academic topics that she didn’t normally cover in environmental studies.
“Here in the states we know about HIV/AIDS but it doesn’t seem as big of a deal as when you’re in South Africa; this disease is one of their biggest health problems,” Segall said.
Visiting Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island was one of the highlights of Segall’s experiences and she distinctly remembers just how small it was for someone that was jailed for 27 years of his life.
“He was suffering for so long, stripped from being a person and treated inhumanly, but he never lost hope,” Segall said. “He was still able to rally people and show them that there was still a chance to be free.”
Because of her study abroad experience, Segall became interested in health issues and has fused her newfound passion into an internship with the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C.
Whether it’s to study courses outside of one’s major, maintain the ability to fully immerse oneself in a country without having to leave an important job, or have an experience that majorly affects your career outlook, an international minimister has made many positive developments on the UMD students that elected to “just go away.”
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