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Thread: Study abroad programs-waste of time or not

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Study abroad programs-waste of time or not

    I have a cousin who is majoring in planning at my alma mater. His high school GPA and ACT scores were not high enough to get accepted into any program except planning. This next semester he is studying planning at a school for 4 months in Australia ($20K for barely a semester's worth of classes). He wants to go right into law school to learn corporate law.

    Having interned throughout most of college, I think most study abroad programs in most career fields are nothing more than school sanctioned vacations. Unless you are planning on working abroad after school, I don't think they really help you out at all. If you want to travel the world, do it when you are done with the degree. Personally, "experience abroad" is pile of BS, and nothing prepares you better than good hands-on experience either working full time or interning.

    How do you view study abroad programs?

  2. #2
    I don't know about that. Alot of students don't know what they want to do when they are in college, and I think study abroad programs help them look at things from a different perspective. I also think it becomes harder for people to travel the world when you are working full time, supporting a family, etc.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Can be a good thing...

    Study abroad is really what you make of it (a lot like the college experience in general). If your cousin is a slacker and a partier, he will probably be doing the exact same thing in a different location. If he is adventurous, curious, and open-minded, he will met lots of new people with different ideas, values, and norms.

    Study abroad is also a good way for a student to demonstrate their independence. It takes a hearty dose of confidince to leave family and friends behind for 4 months and go somewhere completely different. Although I must say, I would give him more credit if he were going somewhere more challenging with an extremely different culture and language - i.e. China, Mexico, Tunisia.

    I participated in a summer abroad program for 5 weeks. Its been on my resume for all my planning internships and jobs so far, and I've been asked about my experience in almost every job interview I've had. I think it is something that really does look good on a resume, especially if you can elaborate on what you got out of the experience and why it was important to you. (And no, the numerous drunken nights and foreign lovers should not be mentioned in an interview.)

  4. #4
    Cyburbian dandy_warhol's avatar
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    one of my biggest regrets is not participating in a study abroad program in undergrad. stupid me not wanting to be apart from a stupid boy.

    if you can afford to, i say do it!
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Like anf said, if he's a slacker here, he'll probably be a slacker there. I also agree with anf that going somewhere completely different is much more rewarding and challenging than going somewhere where the language and culture is fairly similar. Most people I knew who did study abroad in Australia came back with a higher alcohol tolerance and a tan. It was a glorified vacation for them.

    It's a great way to broaden your experience and it does help with getting a job, I know lots of people who have gotten jobs, internships, or entrance into graduate schools because of what they got out of the international experience (even the people who went to Australia for a "glorified vacation").Obviously, if a student graduates with mediocre grades, no internships, no jobs, no activities, nothing but a trip to whereever, it probably won't help as much. But that's not because it isn't valuable. It's because the person is lazy.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    I think the main benefit of study abroad is the exposure to other cultures. For an American, studying in Australia does not seem like much of a change. A friend went to study in Senegal for a year -- now that's a change. She came back with a husband and son -- now that's a real change.

    And what's this about his scores were so low he could only get into planning? Doesn't that school have phys. ed.? Or english?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Having interned throughout most of college, I think most study abroad programs in most career fields are nothing more than school sanctioned vacations. Unless you are planning on working abroad after school, I don't think they really help you out at all. If you want to travel the world, do it when you are done with the degree. Personally, "experience abroad" is pile of BS, and nothing prepares you better than good hands-on experience either working full time or interning.
    I agree. Back in college I heard all about the exploits of those who had the study abroad experience..... and I don't recall any talk of studying. Only partying and sightseeing. And I swear that my opinion that overseas study is b.s. is not the slightest bit due to any jealousy on my part since I never went

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Thanks for your replies. My cousin takes far more risks than I did as a college student. The study abroad program is about two years worth of in-state tuition (public school). His parents can't afford to send him overseas (I don't even think they are paying for his college either). However, he is going into law and will be able to pay off his debts in a few years.

    UIUC used to have an excellent admissions standard that was mostly determined by your school rank and ACT score. I have heard a bunch of horror stories about high school students with outstanding grades, extracurricular involvement, etc. who were not accepted. Each college within the university (and each department within each college) has their own admission policy now. My cousin waited too long to apply to UIUC, and the only program that was still accepting applications was urban planning. He originally wanted to work for a developer, and I recommended that he transfer into the business school and focus on real estate, but he is just going to finish his undergraduate in planning and then go to law school.

    Hilldweller brought up a good point: get rid of the "study" and just call it "travel" abroad, or "teach" abroad. For example, teaching English to children in developing countries is a very important skill, but unless you are majoring in a languague or education, how are you "studying" anything related to planning, architecture, business, or engineering?

  9. #9
    Cyburbian njm's avatar
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    Unfortunately, there are a few people that give study abroad a bad name. However, in my experience those who want to party will regardless of locale, while those who take it seriously will benefit from the independence and adaptability skills one can acquire.

    *Disclaimer: I've studied overseas twice in the same country.*

    In July 2001 I boarded an airplane to a country (Sweden) where a language that I did not understand is spoken, though almost all people (save bank tellers and phone nurses) are more than willing to speak English upon request. My program was a direct exchange with little support (from home or host school), and I only had one friend who was also a native English speaker.

    After 5 months I took a class in geology (my undergrad degree was geology & civil engineering) lectured in Swedish and got over a 90% on the final exam (which was in English, I admit). I dare someone to tell me I was able to do that while partying every night.

    I think the biggest crime in study abroad programs is the colonies of American students that exist at many overseas institutes (thanks to programs like Butler and ISEP-II). For one to truly have a life-changing experience, a significant change in social structure is necessary.

    In summary, I guess I'd say that study abroad for those who want to try something radically different is exceptionally beneficial, while those who simply want to go on vacation are just ruining the experience for those around them (and driving up the price!)
    What luck! A random assemblage of words never sounded less intelligent.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    I have a cousin who is majoring in planning at my alma mater. His high school GPA and ACT scores were not high enough to get accepted into any program except planning.
    Hmmm. I feel insulted.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  11. #11
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I think it would not be fair to lump all study abroad programs together as the same. As others have said, those who want to take things seriously will, those who would rather party, will do that regardless of their locale. Many of us like to run somewhere in between (there's nothing wrong with celebrating IMO).

    I went abroad twice through two different schools and it was a fantastic, life altering experience for me. And much of it had little to do with my academic work, but the time I spent trying to interact and understand another cultural setting. This is especially true of homestays - a staple of such programs. This kind of first-hand, cross-cultural experience is not something that can be learned from a book and I am a strong advocate of the benefits it gives people. It expands one's mind about what is "normal" in human behavior, promotes understanding of diverse viewpoints, makes your mind more nimble and flexible, and broadens your understanding of the human condition.

    All that being said, $20k is a hell of a lot of money to borrow against a potential future career in law (what if he changes his mind and decides to become a journalist or...planner?!). But if he can swing it, I say go for it! And for the record, I know people who lacked clear direction before going abroad, only to return with inspiration and direction. Sometimes having to fend for yourself in a strange land will do that...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    I think it would not be fair to lump all study abroad programs together as the same. As others have said, those who want to take things seriously will, those who would rather party, will do that regardless of their locale. Many of us like to run somewhere in between (there's nothing wrong with celebrating IMO).

    I went abroad twice through two different schools and it was a fantastic, life altering experience for me. And much of it had little to do with my academic work, but the time I spent trying to interact and understand another cultural setting. This is especially true of homestays - a staple of such programs. This kind of first-hand, cross-cultural experience is not something that can be learned from a book and I am a strong advocate of the benefits it gives people. It expands one's mind about what is "normal" in human behavior, promotes understanding of diverse viewpoints, makes your mind more nimble and flexible, and broadens your understanding of the human condition.

    ...
    Regardless of the quality of the program and the seriousness of the student, I think that the majority of programs still detract from the on the job skills that you could learn from internships or working full time. If a student is okay with that, they should go for it (obviously, they don't need my stamp of approval). But don't come back here saying you have all these "relevant" job skills. As somoene who had to work their way through school, I still place a premium on internships and networking.

    Otterpop, the undergrad planning program at UofI is pretty easy, as compared to the very difficult engineering, architecture, pre-med, and business majors (which are all very highly ranked). On the other hand, I think the planning masters and doctoral programs are much more difficult to get into.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Regardless of the quality of the program and the seriousness of the student, I think that the majority of programs still detract from the on the job skills that you could learn from internships or working full time.
    Perhaps. Though I would also say that if this person is planning to attend graduate law school, any job experience they get as an undergrad is probably not going to have a big impact on law firm employers or law schools (IMO). Also, if he is only going for a semester, there should still be time for getting an internship or job before he graduates (or would this be his final semester?) The jobs I had in college are not even included on my resume - busing tables and filling orders at the vitamin factory don't exactly enhance my planning prowess...

    I have actually been told that my experiences abroad were factors in employment in the past, but I was also dealing with culturally diverse environments and those places wanted someone who was well versed in that setting.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    As was stated previously, if they party here, they'll party there.

    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Regardless of the quality of the program and the seriousness of the student, I think that the majority of programs still detract from the on the job skills that you could learn from internships or working full time. If a student is okay with that, they should go for it (obviously, they don't need my stamp of approval). But don't come back here saying you have all these "relevant" job skills. As somoene who had to work their way through school, I still place a premium on internships and networking.
    I did the same (worked through undergrad) and I'm doing it through graduate school now. I believe that the intent of the programs is sound and that there is alot to be gained from them. The added experience is something that can set individuals apart from the crowd.

    I'm an MLA student, strongly considering a dual MLA/MURP program and looking at opportunities to spend time in either China with the Architecture School or Costa Rica with the Department of Planning at UIUC. I'd consider the experiences gained at either location valuable to a designer. However, I'm having difficulty swallowing the price tag that comes along with them; 10k for a VERY structured 6 week program in China, and about 8k for a decidedly less so program in Costa Rica.

    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Otterpop, the undergrad planning program at UofI is pretty easy, as compared to the very difficult engineering, architecture, pre-med, and business majors (which are all very highly ranked). On the other hand, I think the planning masters and doctoral programs are much more difficult to get into.
    nrschmid, I'd like to hear more about your experiences during your stay at UIUC. What've you heard or experienced about the UIUC planning program that makes you think of the undergraduate and graduate programs so differently?

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by rdnichol View post
    As was stated previously, if they party here, they'll party there.
    I'm an MLA student, strongly considering a dual MLA/MURP program and looking at opportunities to spend time in either China with the Architecture School or Costa Rica with the Department of Planning at UIUC. I'd consider the experiences gained at either location valuable to a designer. However, I'm having difficulty swallowing the price tag that comes along with them; 10k for a VERY structured 6 week program in China, and about 8k for a decidedly less so program in Costa Rica.

    nrschmid, I'd like to hear more about your experiences during your stay at UIUC. What've you heard or experienced about the UIUC planning program that makes you think of the undergraduate and graduate programs so differently?
    I found it very ironic that the MLA program at UIUC has a dual masters degree with MUP, but the MUP program does not have a dual masters program with MLA. Last spring I was invited to speak to planning and landscape architecture students about the relationship between the two disciplines (if you're interested, I could e-mail you a PDF of the presentation).

    UIUC places a huge emphasis on their masters program, whether it be the course material, professors, financial aid, career placement, etc. I think the undergraduates were left to fend for themselves. I had to teach myself how to network, where to look for internships, and how to put together a portfolio because the faculty was too busy working with their own research or masters thesis and dissertations . I was only allowed ONE graduate course the last semester of college, although I think most of us could have easily placed into these courses.

    The urban planning program feels like a "one-room schoolhouse" (actually, we had three rooms: two computer labs and a lecture hall which were usually overcrowded with bachelors, masters, and doctoral students). Several of my courses were taught entirely by TA's, most of which did not have previous experience in planning and it really showed

    The undergraduate program gives you exposure to alot of areas of planning: current and long range planning, economic development, transportation planning, engineering planning, historic preservation, statistics, land use law, and some "design". The graduate program has several different foci: land use planning, transportation planning, **international planning, economic development.

    I think the best courses are taught by adjunct professors. Bruce Knight is the Planning Director for the City of Champaign (he is running for President of APA this year). Craig Rost is the Deputy City Manager for Economic Development. Both of these men have taught me a ton about long range planning and economic development. Mary Edwards was very knowledgeable about statistics. Alice Novak taught me alot about historic preservation and how to work with IHPA.

    DURP is NOT a design program. I know little about their "current" study-abroad programs other than they been a tremendous help for international planning students. I'm hypercritical about those programs in general and would skip the Costa Rica trip if you are more interested in design. I also think the East St. Louis Action Research Project (ESLARP) is s total waste, especially for undergraduate students: in twenty years of the program's existence there has been nothing more than the trips to pick up garbage, remove weeds, and paint trash cans. There is absolutely no connection between the planning undergraduates and gradautes: the graduates are busy working on neighborhood plans or updating the GIS lab for residents (what the heck are poor families going to do with ArcGIS?!!!). There is also no connection between architecture students and planning students. I am not expecting problems to be solved overnight, but I don't think the community has really benefitted from ESLARP's presence.

    If I had to recommend any study abroad program it would be the School of Architecture's Versailles program where students spend most of the semester on-site working in studios followed by their own trips throughout Europe (it's pretty much backpacking). Everyone I talked to about the program really enjoyed it. I think this should be expanded to graduate students and landscape architecture students but space is limited to only 40 juniors each year. The description for the Chinese trip seems very interesting, the website says they not only focus on architecture but planning, site design, art, opera, etc. I think it's a very good mix, but just make sure how much time is spent doing work and how much time is spent sightseeing, attending lectures, etc.

    I have a lot of regrets about the undergraduate planning program: it just plain sucked. I tried to make the most of the program. I taught myself GIS so that I could get the planning internships that would have gone to the graduate students, and networked, networked, networked. It paid off down the road, and I've learned from my mistakes.
    Last edited by nrschmid; 04 Jan 2008 at 3:25 PM.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    Actually, I'm pretty certain that the dual degree program is entirely reciprocal. In either case, you still have to be accepted to both programs independently.

    I would love to see your presentation on the relationship between the disciplines. I'll shoot you a PM with my email.

    Regarding your complaint regarding the UP undergraduate program (fending for yourself, professor's emphasis on their research vs. teaching, etc.). I experienced a very similar situation as an NRES undergrad at UIUC. Part of it might simply be both program's emphasis on research. That is after all, what secures tenure. Not that it justifies poor treatment of undergraduates. I think graduate students receive more attention in just about any program, or atleast receive more respect than the undergrads.

    It's pretty evident that DURP doesn't have much to do with design. The trip to Costa Rica seems like it gives a nod at best to anything related to design. It's quickly falling on my list. Versailles would be wonderful, but I doubt that the School of Architecture would be willing to relinquish control of that program since the students in it are taking essentially the same courses that their domestic counterparts are taking. They just happen to be doing it in Versailles!

  17. #17
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    In my experience, the people Ihave met who have participated in study abroad programs (my fiance included) seem to have a much more open opinion about just about everything (I am not sure if this is a function of thier living overseas for a time or if being willing to go overseas is a function of their general open-mindedness) and I think the persepctive you gain by seeing a different society and culture (even if it is another western society) is one of the most important things a student can get out of school.

    While I never participated in a study abroad, I did spend some time in the Marine Corps which gave me the oppportunity to see just about every corner of the World and while there were many aspects of being in the military that I could do without, being able to see those different places makes it all worth it.
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    The military does not prepare you for the corporate life

    Quote Originally posted by WSU MUP Student View post
    While I never participated in a study abroad, I did spend some time in the Marine Corps which gave me the oppportunity to see just about every corner of the World and while there were many aspects of being in the military that I could do without, being able to see those different places makes it all worth it.
    I served in the Army National Guard, and while I may not have not served any overseas tours, I find it deplorable that the military claims that they are preparing exiting service members for the corporate life. Enlisted soldiers are really at a disadvantage if they (1) are not serving active duty, (2) don't have a four year college degree, (3) have dependants, and (4) live in an area with few employment opportunities (and there are several service members who have these four traits). Unless you are in a non-combat branch of the army, such as adjuntant general (admin) or judge advocate general (legal) which have transferrable skills., all it takes is one serious injury and your life is turned upside down.

    I know several veterans who are very hard-working and have years of leadership experience and management in the military. Unfortunately, few employers are willing to hire veterans if they don't have the right skills. I think DoD needs to invest more resources in job placement for reservists and guardsmen.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    I have to say that as a recent graduate and a former study abroad student, I think that studying abroad is a vital part of both the college and human experience. Is the workload generally easier? In many cases yes, in some no. I for one also managed to arrange an internship while abroad. Does experiencing new cultures, learning how to function on your own in a foreign country, developing an international and domestic network etc etc etc make up for this lack of intensive traditional education? I say definitely. I studied abroad in Europe for a full year and had the time when I was there to visit around 15 other countries (the magic of incredibly cheap airlines and trains)... and I can honestly say that in my experience, the difference in maturity and general worldliness between those who studied abroad and those who didn't is fairly tangible. There is of course an economic aspect to it which is another story, but I honestly think that the only person who would view going abroad as a negative is one who has not had the luxury of experiencing it.

    didn't mean that last sentence to come off as challenging or insulting as it might have... also why are we acting as if it is going abroad vs getting an internship? I for one went abroad...drank a little, worked a little, lived a lot... and had internships the other three years and during the summer abroad after my program. I can also tell you that in post graduate job interviews, my time abroad almost always came into conversation...and i think for good reason.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 11 Feb 2008 at 1:27 PM. Reason: double reply

  20. #20
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    can't say enough positive things about study abroad programmes. I did a year in Bangkok for my undergrad. Pretty much every other exchange student ended up going to some grad school or ended up getting a very good job. I ended up at the UN out of the whole thing.

    For my grad school, I did a semester in Chongqing, China. My studio project was working on designing one of the new cities for the 3 Gorges project.

    My last few interviews, the 3 Gorges project comes up and some of the crazy stories involving Chinese authorities. Makes for some great interviews.

  21. #21

    in total agreement

    nrschmid, your description of the uiuc undergrad program is spot on. i absolutely agree with everything you said and is why i am looking forward to pursuing a master's degree somewhere that will be much more challenging.

  22. #22
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    Well... I didn't do an exchange term or anything like that, but I did an internship abroad - from Germany (I am German to Knoxville, TN for a half year. And I think that was the best time in my life

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