Wingin' it

UNR students have many opportunities to take their studies abroad

The author during a trip to she took to Iceland after graduating UNR in May 2019.

The author during a trip to she took to Iceland after graduating UNR in May 2019.

Photo/Andrea Heerdt

There are many reasons why college students should consider studying, or even teaching, abroad. For many, it can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to immerse themselves in a different culture. For others, it’s the chance to learn a second language or gain valuable experiences that set them apart from their peers after graduation.

But despite the appeal of spending a semester in a new and exciting place, there are many university students who don’t even consider the idea of studying abroad, believing they do not have enough money or time to travel to a foreign country in college. Alyssa Nota, president and CEO of Universities Study Abroad Consortium, has advice for University of Nevada, Reno, students who want to turn their travel dreams into reality.

Planning ahead

Nota recommends that students meet with their academic advisor as early as possible if they’re even considering the idea of spending time abroad. She said for some majors with very specific course sequencing requirements, students may be better off studying abroad during their sophomore year when they’re still working on general education requirements, including foreign language skills. For other students who want to dive into advanced coursework, like engaging in research projects with faculty abroad, their junior or senior year may be a better choice since they’ll have advanced further in their major.

If students are trying to save specific classes for their time abroad, Nota said upper and lower division foreign languages, social sciences and humanities classes are widely available among USAC’s programs. She also said that students should never feel like it’s too late to study abroad, either.

“Last year, 11 percent of USAC enrollments were students in their senior year,” said Nota, “Many students study abroad during their senior year and are surprised to discover that they can fulfill major requirements and graduate on time.”

That being said, those who wait until their senior year may be faced with more of a challenge if their degree has specific technical or licensing requirements. Luckily, there are short-term alternatives UNR students can enroll in over winter break that will see students spending their cold months someplace warmer—like Spain, Costa Rica or Cuba.

Other things to consider when planning for a semester abroad include getting a passport as early as possible. According to Nota, all USAC students need to make sure their passport is valid for at least six months after their planned return from studying abroad, especially if they’re applying for a visa pre-departure.

Planning early will not only keep students on track to graduate in a timely manner, but will also help students avoid situations like signing a lease on an apartment in Reno when they won’t be in the country.

Paying your way

According to Nota, there are many ways in which students can finance their time abroad. USAC provides students with an array of tools and resources in order to lower the cost of their semester abroad.

There are many national USAC scholarships students can apply for, but there are a few like the Mullen-Hidalgo-Sandoval Scholarship, R.J. Simcoe Memorial Scholarship, and Frances C. and William P. Smallwood Foundation Scholarship for first-generation and/or high financial need students who graduated from a high school in Carson City, Douglas or Washoe County that have been set aside specifically for UNR students who want to study abroad.

Nota said that USAC even has a scholarship team that walks people through the application processes and helps students brainstorm essay outlines to create the strongest application possible.

In order to apply for study abroad scholarships, students must have already started their program application. This isn’t the final commitment to study abroad, but it does open the door to potential scholarship funding. If students are relying on the funding, they should be keeping track of important application deadlines. The USAC scholarship application deadline is March 15 for summer and fall programs and October 15 for January and spring programs.

Where you choose to study abroad also matters financially. According to Nota, USAC’s most affordable programs are located in India, Latin America, Asia and Ghana. USAC also provides students with an interactive budget sheet that allows them to calculate the cost of airfare, housing, courses, personal expenses and more.

Although it can be difficult for students to obtain part-time jobs while studying abroad due to the complications of work visas, USAC offers an array of academic internships for those who want to gain valuable professional experience in health care facilities, marketing firms, community service organizations, environmental agencies, the arts and media and local schools.

Nota recommends that once a student is enrolled in their program, they should meet with their program advisor for country-specific information on how to save money. She also said to speak with your bank before departing to see if there are ways to reduce international withdrawal fees.

There are also student public transportation passes available that can cut costs, and USAC offers an app guide that helps many students stay within a budget, including real-time currency convertor apps and budgeting and expense tracking apps.

Travel after graduation

For those who never had the opportunity to study abroad in college, UNR also offers a graduate certificate that can open the door for teaching English in a foreign country. The Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages graduate certificate (TESOL) is a great option for those who have never taught before but want to earn a certificate quickly, according to Dr. Rod Case, associate professor of the college of education.

This 15-credit graduate program is for students of any background who have a bachelor’s degree and are interested in languages, culture and education. According to Case, it’s a great opportunity for a person to give teaching a try before enrolling in a master’s program and then potentially realizing it’s not for them.

The courses offered at UNR are solely online, and teach students how long it takes to speak, write and read a language, how pronunciation is learned and whether or not learning in a classroom or learning abroad is most effective.

Once a student has earned a TESOL certificate, Case offers a summer course that teaches them everything from where to look for teaching jobs, to visa requirements, to how to create a lesson plan.

Case also brings in guest speakers to talk about their teaching experiences abroad, so students can best determine which country and what type of school they want to teach at.

Most of the jobs students participate in after earning their TESOL certificate are programs that teach adults English. Case said they’re usually yearly positions typically in Asia, South America or Europe.

Whether you choose to study or teach abroad, UNR students have the opportunity to learn not just about a new country, but how to find practical resources for maximizing your experience abroad.