World class learning.
IMAGINE JAUNTING PAST DOUBLE-DECKER buses and looking right instead of left as you cross the streets of London on your way to class. Or taking in the Baroque architecture of Brussels as you contemplate an upcoming exam on the intricacies of international commerce. These are not fantasy spring breaks, but reality for individuals who have chosen to pursue degrees abroad.
Foreign study, whether for credit or a degree, is no longer just a perk of the intellectual or financial elite. Today, employers place a high value on candidates with a background in international business and culture. Thanks to an abundance of exchange programs, scholarships and fellowships, record numbers of students are going abroad to study and soak up the culture firsthand. Most go for six weeks, a semester or even a year of study--others are enrolling for three or more years of undergraduate study or to completed their postgraduate programs. According to the Institute of International Education in New York, the number of Americans studying abroad increased nearly 6% in 1995-96 (the most recent year for which statistics are available) to 89,242, up from 84,403 the year before. Nonetheless, those numbers pale in comparison to the more than 400,000 foreign students who flocked to American institutions of higher learning during that same period. In fact, the number of Americans studying abroad represents less than 1% of total U.S. post-secondary school enrollments.
Most of those pursuing degrees abroad major in humanities or social sciences and go to Western Europe. "In some countries such as England, where only 20% of applicants are even admitted to college, admission standards are very high," says David C. Larsen, vice president and director for the Center for Education Abroad at Beaver College in Glenside, Pennsylvania. "It's not an easy task to gain admission, but an international education allows you to get to know another culture. That can be a benefit to you and your resume."
Before you pack, consider that costs can be a prevailing deterrent if the school is not approved for U.S. financial aid. Even if tuition is cheaper than in the U.S., the cost of living, depending on the country, might be much higher. You must also research a school's accreditation and how a foreign degree will play in the U.S. job market. In addition, pursuing an education abroad will force you to push the envelope not only academically, but also culturally, as you adapt to a different environment.
SEEKING TOP KNOWLEDGE
When Maya Kulycky took off for London in 1996, it was to learn under a famed and respected professor. As a political science major at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, she had become intrigued with the work of sociologist Paul Gilroy and his examination of African populations in the diaspora. With an unwavering interest in race relations and having written her senior-year thesis on the history of race riots in the U.S., she headed off for a year-long master's degree program in urban studies at Goldsmith College at the University of London, where Gilroy is now head of the sociology department.
"I had always wanted to go to school abroad and had been planning for it even as an undergraduate," says the 23-year-old Evanston, Illinois, native. "I probably could have found a university here, but I was interested in the black population in the U.K. I thought it would give me a new perspective on racism in the U.S." With the help of a $22,000 Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship that covered her $10,000 tuition, Kulycky was on her way. (Ambassadorial scholarships can last from three months to three years.)
What Kulycky did find in addition to the challenge of the program was that the study was very independent and that the eight hours or so of class each week was much less than she had expected of a graduate-level program. But with substantial reading assignments and six papers and a thesis required, the work was also quite challenging. Goldsmith is located in New Cross, a low-income, integrated section of London made up mostly of African and Caribbean immigrants; staying there also allowed Kulycky to gain a better perspective of the black culture in London. Fresh from her experience abroad, Kulycky is now at Yale Law School and hopes to one day practice public service law.
Living in a city that complements his study was also the goal of Troy Flowers Jr. Last year, the 32-year-old took a leave of absence from his job as a flight attendant at American Airlines to earn a master's degree in administrative studies and multinational commerce at Boston University Brussels. "I was burned out," says Flowers, who flew European, South American and Caribbean routes for five years while also earning his B.A. in comparative literature from New York University. "I was looking for another challenge, both professionally and academically." He chose Brussels, the European epicenter of business and politics, home of many multinational firms and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). "I wanted to distinguish myself in the North American business job market, and this program is the best alternative to the M.B.A.," says Flowers, a Winston-Salem, North Carolina, native who will graduate in December.
His class of 100 boasts students from 25 different countries. The program stresses hands-on training. He and many of his peers work for major corporations in strategic planning posts. Currently interning as a market analyst for Dow Corning Europe, Flowers is working on a project that will determine new markets in Europe and North America for the chemical company's silicon technology. "I am making a valuable contribution to a company that might one day be a potential employer," says Flowers. Perhaps just as worthwhile is the fact that Dow is covering his $5,200 tuition this semester. The rent for his one-bedroom apartment is only $575. With food and other expenses moderately priced, Brussels is relatively cheap by European standards.
For all the benefits an international education offers, they do not come without some caveats. Despite fulfilling her educational goals, Kulycky still had to contend with something else. In a class of students from all over the world, she was faced with the prevailing foreigner's view of African Americans. "Their only perception was from movies like Pulp Fiction and other American media that perpetuate black stereotypes," says Kulycky, who roomed with six students, ages 23-35, from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Sweden and Norway. "I learned the power of the media and movies, and how they project the images of African Americans to those abroad."
This is not an uncommon occurrence, adds Margery Ganz, director of study abroad at Spelman College in Atlanta and history department chair. Spelman currently has 52 students studying in 21 countries in semester or yearlong programs. Ganz recalls the story of a Spelman student who went to Japan on exchange in the late 1980s only to be met by Japanese who were surprised that she wasn't a drug dealer, musician or athlete. "When she informed them that she went to a black college, they were amazed. It made them more aware of African Americans and black institutions." On the other hand, Ganz adds, African Americans studying in Africa shouldn't be discouraged if they're viewed first as Americans rather than as "returning brothers and sisters."
Perhaps more daunting than trying to counteract black and/or American stereotypes, Kulycky faced an even greater personal issue--homesickness. "I'm very tight with my family and it was hard for me to be away," says Kulycky, who traveled home for the holidays and found solace with a college friend living in Italy. "Being away instilled in me the value of family and intergenerational relationships. Many of the other students had friends or family there, but I had no one." Fortunately, all Rotary scholars are matched with a local member of Rotary International who serves as a host counselor for support and in case of emergencies.
For Flowers, a small network of friends was essential to his speedy transition into Belgian life. "They helped me find a place to live and walked me through the bureaucratic circles you must maneuver through in order to get certain visas and work permits," he says. Informal gatherings with other African Americans working for international companies in Brussels also helped to ease the culture shock. But for students entirely on their own, U.S. embassies or consulates can offer contacts or organizations that can provide a touch of home.
Besides researching a country's race-relations history, you should familiarize yourself with local Customs. Unlike their foreign Counterparts, few American students speak a second language well enough to study in it. If you don't, then make sure you target programs that are conducted primarily in English.
HOW DOES IT LOOK ON PAPER?
Today's college students are taking advantage of study-abroad opportunities, not only to broaden their horizons, but also to increase their hiring opportunities. Resume's that reflect overseas travel, study and work experience stand out in a sea of job applications. But what is it really worth? Quite a bit, depending on your future goals. "I think graduate schools and employers are looking for it whether it's for a semester, a year or a degree," adds Ganz. "It gives students an edge and shows that you are willing to step out of your comfort zone and take a bit of a risk. Those who have studied abroad present themselves with confidence because they have survived."
As the global economy becomes more competitive, American multinationals and international companies desire candidates with international experience. For example, graduates of Boston University Brussels with an M.S. in management have a 100% placement rate for landing jobs throughout the world. For those American graduates who choose to work in Brussels, the rewards are well worth it. "It's difficult for Americans to get hired here. They can only get a work permit if they are placed in managerial positions at $100,000 a year or more," notes Joseph J. Heinlein Jr., director of Boston University Brussels.
Not only business degrees transfer into career success. Take Antoinette G. Davis, who is earning a medical degree from Ross University in Dominica, the West Indies. "Many people put a stigma on the foreign medical school because the thought is that you could not get into one in the States," says 31-year-old Davis, who graduated in 1989 from Niagara University in Niagara Falls, New York. Davis spent four years in the Army, serving in the Gulf War, before attending Ross, the only medical school to which she applied. "Compared to my peers who attended school in the U.S., I believe that we are at the same level," adds Davis, who was not required to take the MCAT for admission. "We have the same basic science background, but they have had more technological experience." Born in Jamaica, W.I., she didn't have to adjust to living in the Caribbean. While Davis could have chosen a school in the U.S., Ross was recommended for its high-quality curriculum by her father, a family physician. Currently doing her surgical and clinical rotations at Jamaica Hospital in Queens, New York, Davis expects to graduate this June and, with two of her three board exams behind her, hopes to be certified and licensed to practice in New York State.
Before you buy your plane ticket, research the university well and know what you want to get from the experience. Just because a country is intriguing doesn't mean that you'll get a fivestar education that will transfer well to the U.S. It's important to verify the accreditation of a school before your excursion. "Be very cautious of the school at which you choose to get a degree," warns Heinlein. "Many schools may have no solid accreditation, and a student may do a degree in international policy which is worthless." The U.S. Department of Education, the Council on International Educational Exchange and the Institute of International Education provide information on studying abroad, or you can check Peterson's Study Abroad 1998 for information on the more than 1,600 programs in foreign countries (see sidebar, "World Class Resources"). Check with the respective school for information about required board certifications and transfer of credits.
For the learned individual who returns Stateside, humility is a virtue. "It is not a requirement of employment that you study abroad," says Reginald Stuart, corporate recruiter for Miami-based KnightRidder Inc., a newspaper and online new media company. "It's an asset you bring to your repertoire of background experiences. Travel tells an employer who you are and what you want out of life. But don't place too much emphasis on your international experience. It may, be an asset, but it is only one among many that you must have."
RELATED ARTICLE: WORLD CLASS RESOURCES
Institute of International Education (IIE) 809 United Nations Plaza New York, NY 10017-3580 212-883-8200 www.iie.org
IIE publications Vacation Study Abroad ($39.95) Academic Year Abroad (44.95) Financial Resources for International Study ($39.95) Fulbright and other Grants for Graduate Study Abroad (free brochure) 800-445-0443 Peterson's Study Abroad 1998 (Peterson's, $29.95) www.petersons.com
Scholarship and Fellowships
The Institute for International Public Policy/United Negro College Fund Fellows Program c/o Samuel T. Scott, Executive Director 8260 Willow Oaks Corporate Dr. P.O. Box 10444 Fairfax, VA 22031 703-205-3400 www.uncf.org
The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International One Rotary Center 1560 Sherman Ave. Evanston, IL 60201 847-866-3000 www.rotary.org
Robert Bailey Minority Scholarship Council on International Educational Exchange 205 East 42nd St. New York, NY 10017-5706 212-822-2600 www.ciee.com
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|Title Annotation:||includes also list of world class resources; African Americans earn degrees overseas|
|Article Type:||Cover Story|
|Date:||May 1, 1998|
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