Bitten By the Travel Bug? Explore Study Away Programs and Service Trips

by Matt Klingler, DPT ’16

The changes that happen to a student during college are about more than the classes taken, books read, and assignments turned in. A strong education helps form and shape the lens through which students see the world and their place in it. It broadens perspectives and builds one’s understanding of people and problems.

Study away programs can be an amazing and transformative component of the college experience. They provide an opportunity to explore new places and encounter new cultures—all while earning college credit.

A Unique Experience

Study away programs provide unique opportunities for college students who wish to travel. While studying abroad, students can apply what they’ve learned inside of the classroom, outside of the classroom. Whether this is through helping others in need or building language skills, the experience of seeing new parts of the world, meeting new people, and tackling new obstacles can be truly transformative.

Study away programs present students with a bevy of challenges to meet and overcome. Often students are in a place where they know little of the culture, language, or geography. This forces students to problem solve and thrive outside their comfort zone, molding and shaping them into the unique people they will become. Sometimes just knowing they’ve been able to live in another culture and figure things out on their own makes lofty future endeavors seem within reach.

Near or Far

Navigating one’s passion in new, less familiar places is a maturing and rewarding experience that can help better prepare a student for an exciting and diverse career. Not only can students learn their potential impact on a global level, as say a nurse or a filmmaker, but studying away can help them develop invaluable cross-cultural skills.

At Azusa Pacific University, for example, nursing study abroad program takes nursing students to China, South Africa, and Norway. The program gives nursing students the chance to engage with international health care and serve alongside native health care workers.

But study away programs don’t necessarily have to be focused on a specific career, or even bring you halfway across the world. Students can use the time to simply explore their interests or develop other skills. For example, APU offers an Ecuador program that coalesces students with South American culture, allowing them to learn Spanish and take part in mission work. Their High Sierra program places students at Emerald Cove Camp just south of Yosemite. Students have ample time for reflection and often come away with a renewed sense of direction and purpose for their lives and career.

A Call to Serve

When considering a semester away, you might want to look into programs that feature a service component (/global-engagement/study-away/southafrica/). There’s no better way to learn about a new community than by immersing yourself in it and developing relationships with local community members and families. While serving in these communities, one learns the historical, cultural, socio-economic, and political trends first-hand. You can walk away with a better understanding of issues of poverty and inequality while improving your ability to communicate across cultures. These are skills and experiences that can serve you throughout your life and career.

Making the Connection

For students who come back from an amazing travel abroad or mission experience and find it difficult to re-engage with life at home and connect their experience abroad with college, some schools offer a re-entry curriculum. APU students are required to take a course titled “Integration and Formation” their first semester back on campus after studying away. It’s important for students to reflect upon their experience and make the connection between their time away and their life as a student. When the study away experience is thoughtfully integrated into a student’s instructional program and major, it helps solidify the experience as a stepping stone to greater things. Students apply what they’ve learned so they can continue to make a difference in the world they are returning to.

Studying away offers an amazing opportunity to not only learn what life is like in another place, but also to grow as an individual and cultivate a global perspective.