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Generation “Study Abroad”

Posted on Oct. 30, 2015, at 12 p.m.
by Madalyn Atherton and Sally Immel.

Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” and millennials seem to be whole-heartedly embracing his ideal. There has been a 130 percent increase in study abroad participation in the last decade, and that trend shows no sign of slowing down.

18658496049_b82088dd7c_oThe millennial generation isn’t like any other that has come before. We’re flocking toward cities instead of suburbs, spurning home and car ownership for renting and apps like Uber and Lyft, and we have a singularly strong desire to know the world beyond our borders. We are, in fact, 23 percent more interested in going abroad than older generations.

College is the perfect time to travel. People are the most unencumbered they’ll ever be.

Dr. Chris Vargo and Dr. Toby Hopp, both assistant professors of advertising and public relations at The University of Alabama, are giving public relations students at the university an amazing opportunity. The program is called PR in Paris, and students will get to spend a month in The City of Light learning and experiencing one of the most beautiful places in the world.

“Paris is a city where you get more value out of actually living there as opposed to visiting it for a week, and this gives students a unique opportunity to be there for a while,” said Dr. Hopp.

It’s not secret that going abroad helps prepare students for the real world. Ninety-seven percent of students who went abroad found employment within the first 12 months of graduation, compared to 49 percent in the same timeframe. Ninety percent found employment within the first six months. That means students who studied abroad are twice as likely to find a job than students who didn’t.

Photo courtesy of Vivienne Gucwa (Flickr)
Photo courtesy of Vivienne Gucwa (Flickr)

“You have to deal with people who often have very different assumptions of what life should look like, and understanding that is going to help you be a more compassionate, empathetic person,” said Dr. Hopp.

As the world becomes more connected, abroad experience can also be instrumental in the professional world. Students who have traveled the world have already proven that they’re willing to adapt to new situations and cultures on the fly.

“I feel like I can go into any type of environment and adapt very quickly,” said Samantha Vlahos, a senior public relations major at The University of Alabama. “When you’re abroad, you’re faced with situations you wouldn’t experience in your home environment and you have to adapt.”

“Your client could be from anywhere and you have to adapt to that. The world is bigger than the United States,” she continued.

Travel also forces people to know and accept they’re going to make mistakes so as not to panic and break down when they arise. The PR world is ever-changing, fast and instant. Extended trips abroad, which young travelers prefer, force students to put themselves in new situations and deal with them while also dealing with new real-world problems in their chosen city.

LeadAbroad is a study abroad program that leads over 1,000 students from 50 universities to three continents. “By leading transformative experiences,” LeadAbroad believes it can “change lives, impact communities and create a better world.”

Marit Winborn, a LeadAbroad ambassador, studied abroad in Rome this past summer. After being given the opportunity to step out of her comfort zone and view the world from a new perspective, Winborn strongly recommends for students to study abroad if they get the chance.

Photo courtesy of The LEAF Project (Flickr)
Photo courtesy of The LEAF Project (Flickr)

“It is a life-changing experience that really makes you rethink what you want to do in life and helps you find your strengths. Experiencing new cultures help shapes people. When I came home, I found strength in myself I never knew I had. My whole attitude and perspective of life had completely changed,” Winborn said.

Winborn’s role as an ambassador is to talk about her trip to other students and help them find the right trip that suits them. She works with community leaders and other staff members to share ideas and promote LeadAbroad.

Critics of studying abroad claim that it’s a “distraction from the business of getting educated, so you can enter the economy and become a contributing member of society.”

A study of Georgia students indicated that not only did students who studied abroad have a higher GPA, but they also had higher graduation rates.

Studying abroad makes young people better students and better professionals.

Vlahos finished her interview with this advice: “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and you’d regret it if you didn’t take the chance.”

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