At an alumni reception to celebrate Seton Hall veterans, the keynote speaker stated that his year in Vietnam as a second lieutenant back in 1969 was one of the best years of his life.
“Everything I have done since then has been easy,” explained Ret. Major General Donald F. Campbell Sr.
His words resonated with me. Not that I have any experience in jungle combat, but I too had a life-transforming experience as a young woman. When I was 26 years old and a newlywed, I moved with my husband to Belgium where I learned to speak French, found a job, established a household and became a mother – all of it thousands of miles from home. In those days telephones in Brussels were considered such a luxury that you had to add your name to a waitlist to acquire one. I had to write my mother an air-mail letter when I had a question about the baby not sleeping. And three weeks later, I’d be lucky to get her response. It was a hard time. And it was the best of times.
Communication is obviously different in this world of instant chatter, but life-transforming experiences still shape our character. The independence and problem-solving skills I learned so far from home have helped me countless times in my life. And even more important has been the growth I experienced from learning about and immersing myself in another culture.
All of this brings me to the point of this column: that Study Abroad could be the single most important thing your student can do during his/her time at university. I realize it is an added expense to an already expensive endeavor, but the good it does is immeasurable.
The most traditional form of study abroad takes a Seton Hall student to another university for a full semester, occasionally a full academic year. Seton Hall has formal exchange agreements with many universities abroad. In addition, there are third-party providers that lead students from other universities on organized study abroad semester. Semester at Sea, a floating university that stops in dozens of ports in the course of the semester, is an exotic option. Students can be as adventurous as a semester in far-flung Australia. Some students like attending university in England or Ireland because the language is familiar (sort of!). I know a student who spent a year in Russia, another who went to China. Students coordinate their class schedules with their faculty advisors so that the course credits will all transfer back to Seton Hall when the experience is complete.
A smaller and less expensive commitment is our faculty-led tours that typically occur during the summer. Many departments sponsor study tours for 10 days, two weeks or a month. These programs are convenient because they count as Seton Hall class credits, with no extra paperwork or bureaucracy. This is often a great option for a student who is daunted by the many tasks associated with the paperwork surrounding study abroad.
Yet another option for an international experience is the Division of Volunteer Efforts (Dove) annual international service trips. There is no academic credit involved but in many ways this volunteer service is even more enriching to our students. Students who are interested in participating in this activity should stop by the Dove office to learn more about it.
For students interested in study abroad, their first stop should be our Office of International Programs in Presidents Hall. The trained professionals there can walk the student through the many options available to them and then help them negotiate the paperwork.
Freshman students should be weighing their options and factoring an international experience into a four-year academic plan. Sophomores should be laying the groundwork for a junior year experience or a summer tour.
When I think of all the gifts I have given my own children that eventually ended up in a pile for the Goodwill, I know that helping them achieve an international experience was one that will stay with them their whole lives. It might not be for everyone, but it’s worth looking in to. It just could shape your student’s life for the better.