April 20, 2009 Study Abroad

You can drive down Las Vegas Boulevard and visit casinos such as the Paris or the Luxor to get a taste of a different culture, but in order to get a true cultural experience traveling abroad is a must. The Office of International Programs at UNLV provides opportunities for students to study abroad for the semester, summer or year while receiving credit. There’s a wide variety of programs for students to choose from and more than 25 locations around the world to visit. Assistant Director for Education Abroad, Ryan Larsen recommends studying abroad to every student at UNLV. “It’s the easiest time for someone to go away for a semester or a year. Once they graduate it becomes harder to travel abroad because they get married, or have a career,” said Larsen. According to Larsen, studying abroad in college easier because assistance is given through financial aid, loans or scholarships. They have such a wide variety of countries to choose from. According to Larsen the most popular locations are Spain, Italy and Costa Rica. Many students look at studying abroad as an unobtainable option. However there are various opportunities students can and should take advantage of. One of the largest misconceptions students have about the program is that they won’t be able to get financial aid and that they won’t be able to receive credits.

“As soon as I tell them they can acquire credits while abroad and that they can access financial aid through FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid] or that they could use their millennium, or apply for the scholarships offered through our office or through CSUN they immediately think ‘Oh I can do this,’” said Larsen. UNLV sophomore Susana Santana will be embarking on her journey to Viterbo, Italy, this summer. Her education will consist of Italian language and culture classes at L’universita de la Tuscia. Santana is excited to learn about the culture and has a bright view on the adventure to come.

“You’re definitely going to grow a lot. You’re going to learn a lot. I recommend it to everybody if they have the chance to study abroad, if they have the resources, because it’s definitely going to be a learning experience and you’ll never forget it because it will impact your life, and well, it changes you forever.” Santana said that although she feels nervous for what’s to come, she feels the assistance she received from the Office of International Programs is an essential part of her preparation. The Office of International Studies hosts four mandatory pre-departure orientation sessions, gives out a 116 page “Education Abroad Handbook,” a selection of guidebooks, sends updates, and offers an appointment with study abroad representatives in case students need help.

According to Larsen, UNLV is one of the few schools that have a multiple session orientation. They cover getting a passport, student visa, how to access financial aid, money abroad, what to pack and health and safety abroad amongst various other topics. “I think we actually do quite a lot. In fact we might even do a lot of hand holding, perhaps more than we should, but I’d rather a student be prepared than unprepared.” Larsen says there comes a time when a student just has to go and make their own mistakes and put into effect all the lessons they’ve learned at orientation. Santana feels that the education she received from the orientations will help her make fewer mistakes abroad. She said Larsen made the students feel comfortable with making mistakes and learning from them, so she’s prepared to make many, but knows it will be okay. She also learned about the important stages of culture shock and says she’s preparing herself for them. In the “Education Abroad Handbook” it states that there are four stages of culture shock. The first stage is euphoria, the time where everything is new and exciting. The second stage consists of some frustration with different customs and the curiosity felt previously turns into depression or anger. USAC Alumni, Susan Taylor visited Heredia, Costa Rica in fall 2008 and recalls this stage during her stay. She was used to driving a car in Las Vegas, so in Costa Rica she was frustrated by having to take the bus everywhere. However, she remembers recuperating from that stage and moving on to the next.

“At first I was annoyed with having to take the bus everywhere, but then I was like hey this is cool and cheaper than Vegas to take the bus,” said Taylor. In the next stage students gradually adjust to the situation and realize they have some control. The last phase is biculturalism. On page 57 the handbook states “Full adaptation has taken place when you are able to function in two cultures with confidence.” This phase consists of enjoying the customs that once annoyed you and fully adapting. Orientation and the handbook also cover reverse culture shock. It is a stage that Larsen believes is sometimes the hardest. When Taylor returned from Heredia, Costa Rica, she experienced culture shock when people told her she acted as if she was still in Costa Rica. “They say there’s different stages and that when you come back, you’ll want to tell your friends everything that reminds you of your trip and they were like Oh gosh Susan, shut up already,” she said. Taylor said she wanted to tell everyone about all her experiences because she learned so much about the Latin culture and had the time of her life. Larsen describes students like Taylor as the best marketing tool they have. “I can put as many fliers all around campus, or do booths on campus, or do classroom presentations, but when a student actually hears from another student how cool it is and how they have to do it, they’re sold. I mean I don’t have that kind of power!” he said.

Larsen said they have a nearly 100 percent rating in the “Would you recommend the program to others.” Many students come back saying they’ve had the best experience of their life and they want to go back. “It is not true that the more money you have the more you will enjoy your trip,” states page 38 of the handbook. Many students are turned away when they see the costs associated with studying abroad. Santana is looking to spend the same $14,000 that Taylor spent on her study abroad. However they both received financial aid and scholarships, assistance that is available to any student. Taylor believes that her adventure was worth the money spent and her loans left to pay. Even with the harsh economy, Larsen says the number of applicants has remained steady compared to other years. While abroad, students have the opportunity to live with a host family, in an apartment with other USAC students or in the residence halls at their university. Larsen prefers students live with host families because they’ll receive a more cultural experience. They eat traditional food and practice the language. Host families treat students like tenants, so no curfew is practiced. Home sickness is an important topic students ask about all the time. Larsen responds by explaining that it is a feeling everyone goes through and there’s other students that can help you get through what they’re going through as well. Larsen believes there are various benefits to studying abroad such as foreign language acquisition and cultural immersion. He doesn’t see how students cannot grow from such an experience.

“It often makes students well rounded as individuals because they’re extracting themselves from their comfortable home culture and inserting themselves into a culture they don’t know overseas,” he said. Many students believe studying abroad is a great opportunity. “I regret not studying abroad because I feel I missed out on an enriching educational experience,” said Michael Jackson, senior at UNLV with one semester left. However Jackson says that when he has children he plans on encouraging them to study abroad.

Resources: Ryan Larsen – Assistant Director 895-0312 Susana Santana – Future USAC student 379-0415 Susan Taylor – Alumni of USAC 858-5255 Michael Jackson – wished he would have traveled abroad 286-5580

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