Much of the college experience consists of sitting in classrooms engaging and learning whatever content the professor decides to lecture about. Students sit in similarly styled classrooms on the same campus every day where a pattern forms from consistency. Imagine another choice. To learn the deeper meaning of Chaucer, you buy a ticket to fly to London and experience what you need to learn rather than aimlessly memorize the content. Or instead of sitting in an American classroom trying to grasp at the culture and the language of the Spaniards, you dive directly into the culture of Barcelona, Spain. There are two choices: a simple classroom on a college campus, or flying across the Atlantic Ocean where the country and city becomes an endless classroom to become immersed.
College provides students a chance to reach outside of the local campus by simultaneously traveling and attending classes outside of the typical college campus, therefore creating an immersion learning environment. Iona College offers its students 10 choices of study abroad programs to choose from as an alternative to attending classes on the New Rochelle campus. Many options provided for students consist of cities in Europe such as Rome, Paris and London, but Iona also offers a trip to India. Each program varies in the requirements a student must meet to be considered, however the competitiveness of the programs is simply a first-come, first-serve basis, according to Sarah Newman a student assistant in the Study Abroad office.
Requirements mainly consist of a minimum GPA and positive recommendations, but students often struggle to fit the classes to be taken abroad into their schedule, said Newman. Often, students have already taken the classes offered early in their academic career because they can be used as core credits.
“We urge students to plan study abroad trips as early as possible to account for the classes they will take abroad” Newman said.
Iona College student Marisa Pedron traveled to London in the summer of 2015, but had been planning this trip since her freshman year. By preparing ahead of time, she saved one of the classes needed to complete her necessary core credits and easily fit the class and a trip to London into her schedule.
The classes made available for students vary with each program, but can range anywhere in category from art to business with many in between. According to Dean Defino, a professor of English at Iona College that has traveled with some programs, studying abroad offers students a freedom to see the world through a different lens. Students are free to look at what they learn with a new perspective whether it is about art, history or business practices. Traveling the world breaks biases, he said, and when traveling with a companion who know in-depth details of the area students can gain more than a mere tourist would from taking in the sights with a guide book.
“It is a great opportunity to stand outside of one’s narrow way of seeing the world,” Defino said. “Many people say that travel gives them a sense of freedom: freedom from cares at home, freedom to re-invent themselves, etc.”
Not every study abroad trip goes as planned from start to finish. According to Defino, programs are cancelled on occasion due to low enrollment numbers. Convincing students to follow through on commitment can be difficult. More students express an interest in the early stages, while fewer actually participate in the trip, he said.
Many reasons can affect a student’s decision to go abroad. Money, scheduling or dealing with more immediate priorities create interference of competing needs and obligations, according to Defino. At times, convincing a student to travel with a program directly relates to convincing a student of the value.
“It can be difficult to convince someone of the value of something they haven’t yet experienced,” Defino said. “One thing is for sure: any student I have ever known who participated in Study Abroad has been very glad they did.”
Iona College student Nick Morales, another member of the summer 2015 trip to London, experienced many benefits after his travels by taking advantage of a program abroad. One benefit, he says, is the expansion of a person’s world view. Traveling abroad provides an opportunity to see a new section of the world and experience the culture that thrives there. Seeing the sites and meeting new people alter a biased idea of what is actually out in the world. A second benefit is being able to get outside the everyday norm of classes in a classroom on a college campus and instead see something new.
“You could take this class at Iona and going around doing your normal thing, but then you study abroad and you’re seeing a completely different thing having a completely new experience something that you can keep with you for the rest of your life,” Morales said.
Defino traveled with the students on the summer 2015 London trip. He said the group reaped the benefits that London had to offer with just the right amount of energy and sense of adventure making the experience one of ease. According to Defino, London in particular provides a chance to look at the most familiar things with a slightly new perspective. For example, junk food and social customs are two familiar things to any person. However, the London perspective is that the British people adore junk food and are exceptional at making it, and the people insist on manners such as “please” and “thank you” even if it is insincere. These appear as two ordinary pieces of life on an American college campus, but an entirely different experience on the streets of London.
“Museums house ancient relics of many other nations, and endless streets of buildings that tell more stories than one could ever imagine, let alone read,” Defino said. “It is a city filled to the brim, almost overwhelming. But it is also extremely welcoming and user-friendly, which is why it has long been the most popular travel destination in the world.”
Cassie Alfveby, an Iona student, will travel to Poland over spring break to experience Auschwitz. She has considered this trip ever since she was a freshman because she saw its benefits both academically and spiritually through this hands-on insight about the Holocaust.
“Students can definitely benefit from study abroad,” Alfveby said. “Being nervous to step out of your comfort zone is normal, but I think overcoming fears gives you room to grow as an individual.”