Study abroad still beckons, despite economic woes

BY MEGAN DIAL | APRIL 15, 2009 7:38 AM

UI junior Carly Johnson works two jobs — not to pay for her tuition but so she can pay $8,000 to study abroad this summer in Florence, Italy.

“I wanted to go for a full semester, but I couldn’t,” the 21-year-old said. “The summer was a better option … it was more financially feasible.”

Her story could be the start of a trend if the economic situation does not pick up. Janis Perkins, the director of the UI Office of Study Abroad, said more UI students may start to travel for shorter amounts of time or not study abroad at all.

“If the recession drags on and on … then I think we’re really going to begin seeing a decline in students’ ability to participate,” she said. “I think it’s going to be one of those things where you have a delayed effect.”

So far, she said, the economy has not yet resulted in fewer students studying overseas, and she has only seen various small effects from the financial crisis.

But, Perkins said, the office knows anecdotally of students who have found ways to make their travel experience more affordable.

“We’ve had a few students who have applied for our need-based scholarships who have indicated significant changes in their family’s finances,” she said.

Study Abroad is working to make it possible for students to continue to afford studying overseas even if money is tight, she said.

This is the first year the office has had a large, endowed scholarship fund, with $750,000 available in scholarship funding specifically for students studying abroad, Perkins said. This is twice as much as previous years, and officials plan to keep that level of money elevated in years to come, she said.

UI sophomore Erin Phillips is applying for some of that scholarship money so she can afford to study abroad during the spring 2010 semester.

Like Johnson, she has been accepted to a school in Florence. After working through finances with her father, she said she is 100 percent sure she’s going.

“I applied really early on, and I got formally accepted,” Phillips said. “I was lucky enough and fortunate enough to be given the opportunity.”

She knew in high school that she wanted to study abroad after hearing some family members’ regret about not traveling during college, she said.

Perkins said this is true for many UI students.

“Students often begin planning their study abroad experience two or three years before going abroad,” she said. “Study abroad is just gradually over the last several years almost something that students expect to do while they’re at college.”

While the economy may eventually affect the number of students able to go abroad, she said, she doesn’t think the amount of student interest will decrease.

“It’s just sort of an inherent interest right now,” Perkins said. “In times when everybody knows it’s going to be a little harder to find a job, students are looking for the value to their education. … Studying abroad can set them apart.”

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