Jill McKinney MS ’11, Butler’s Director of Global Engagement, shares how the study abroad program has grown in recent years and the significant impact on and benefits to students who study abroad as part of their undergraduate education.
How long has the study abroad program at Butler been in existence, and how has it changed over the years?
Study abroad has a long history at Butler. In my 15 years here, international education has been a prominent part of all strategic plans for the University. Over time, the number and type of available study abroad programs have steadily grown. For instance, the number of students going abroad each year has more than doubled in the last 10 years and the number of faculty creating short-term courses abroad has more than tripled in the last five years. We know that about 40 percent of all Butler students study abroad before they graduate.
What are the options/programs available to students?
The Center for Global Education maintains a list of more than 200 study abroad programs in over 60 countries. The goal is to provide students with a wide range of options, both in location and duration. This is the best way to help the most students fit a study abroad experience into their course plan. Students of any major or minor can go abroad for a semester, a full academic year, or any break in between.
What are the benefits of study abroad/domestic programs for students?
One of the lessons from the recent global pandemic is that all people around the globe are interconnected; our humanity depends on each other. Since our graduates will soon be the world’s leaders and educators, it feels imperative to me that we graduate students who have a keen understanding of the impact individuals have on the collective. I think the benefits of studying abroad are far-reaching and have a long-term impact because the student is influenced on a personal, academic, and professional level.
On the journey of personal discovery, students report that study abroad often provides them an environment to learn about themselves more than any other experience. Most return from abroad with a renewed sense of purpose, an increased awareness of the interconnectivity of the world’s people and economies, and a stronger understanding of their own capability to succeed in life, not to mention lifelong friendships.
In our advising process, we ask students what their personal and academic goals are because, after all, this experience will serve as a mechanism to help them fulfill their own educational goals. Another benefit is that study abroad provides the opportunity for students to take courses abroad that apply to their degree completion—often courses that are not offered at the home school. I always use the example of Biology. A Biology student cannot take a Marine Biology course at land-locked Butler, but that student can access an incredible Marine Biology course at a university in Sydney, Australia.
Intercultural development is a unique benefit of the study abroad experience and is necessary to train future global leaders. To graduate and compete in a global marketplace, students who have studied abroad are able to articulate transferable skills on their resume, such as the ability to communicate and work with a diverse set of people, to tolerate ambiguity, to problem-solve independently, and to understand their own cultural biases. These are all value-adds for future employers.
What are some real-life examples of how students have benefitted from studying abroad?
Study abroad often brings vocational clarity. Students routinely return from study abroad with a renewed sense of their own purpose. Alumni report to us that the lessons they learned and the skills they gained while studying abroad are continually used in their adult lives and professions. Many students unlock future opportunities because they studied abroad, such as: applying for prestigious scholarships like Fulbright upon graduation, continuing their education with a global focus, or moving back overseas to work abroad. For me, studying abroad in undergrad changed the trajectory of my career, leading me to meaningful work in higher education.
What is your advice to prospective and current undergraduate students?
Go for it! I feel that the college years present a time in life where there is more access to be abroad for an extended period of time. Those who return from study abroad reflect on it being one of the best decisions they made while in college and are often still learning from the experience years after graduation. Students gain the important study abroad skills of self-confidence, problem solving, and flexibility while at the same time honing the important professional skills of interpersonal communication, collaboration, and initiative.