From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 18, the Study Abroad Fair turned Ring Mall into a gateway to the rest of the world. Sixty-three companies specializing in sending students abroad, either to study, intern or volunteer, set up camp to entice UC Irvine students into traveling outside the United States. What do these companies have in common? The desire to get more UC students into the world. How do they hope to accomplish that? By offering as much information to students as possible.
The informational event was organized by the UCI Center for International Education (CIE) and focused on the available options for studying abroad, other than with the UC Education Abroad Program (EAP). A decision facing students is whether to follow the EAP program or enroll with a private company. EAP promises an easy transfer of units from your abroad university to UCI, the continuation of all of your financial aid and a bevy of counselors dedicated to your success. It occasionally doesn’t offer more unique countries, flexible stay dates and options to work or volunteer. Private programs tend to be more difficult to research, and the fair was all about easing that part of the process.
Branching out from the classic EAP program also means meeting an entirely new group of people, as Chuck Schiffhauer, representative from Abroadco points out. ‘You are likely to find a pretty diverse group of people. They aren’t the people from your French class at UCI.’
This year, the abroad programs have jumped on the ‘going green’ bandwagon. Many companies are stressing their internships or volunteer programs emphasizing the preservation of the environment. Nestled among the study abroad tables were the Peace Corps, Greenforce, Projects Abroad and the Center for Cultural Interchange, abroad programs designed to encourage students to take the initiative on environmental issues. These programs tended to centralize around countries outside of Western Europe, hoping to lure the more daring students.
Addressed, too, were the students who recognize a good international party when they see one. Contiki travel offered not a study abroad program, but trips around Europe to relax and see the lighter part of abroad travel.
Two $500 grand prizes were offered in a student raffle that required students to sign up at just one vendor booth. The first grand prize was sponsored by STA Travel and redeemable for any travel expense. The second was sponsored by the CIE office and redeemable once the student was accepted into a study abroad program. Numerous other prizes were offered, including T-shirts, maps and travel books.
UCI is just one of 19 stops for these vendors that travel across California encouraging any form of travel abroad. The Lincoln Commission, a national commission furthering study abroad in college, has challenged universities across the nation to increase the availability and popularity of education abroad. Each UC is working toward having 50 percent of its student body study abroad by 2016 or 2017. According to Event Coordinator Tasha Alexander, ‘In the 2006-07 academic year, 730 UCI students studied abroad. We estimate that for the ’07-’08 academic year, 980 UCI students will study abroad. This is a 34 percent increase. To reach 50 percent of all students studying abroad by 2016 and 2017, we need to continue to increase our numbers by 20 percent each year.’ In order to deal with this volume, Alexander said that UCI is ‘encouraging non-UC programs [because] there won’t be enough spots for just UC programs.’
Despite the increasing numbers of students traveling with private companies, representatives of the UC financial aid office warned that many UC grants and financial aid packages are inapplicable toward study abroad with independent companies. Federal and state aid applies to non-EAP study abroad, but many Cal Grants, scholarships and loans are not applicable once the student leaves the country.
The fair is just the beginning for UCI students who are thinking about study abroad. Coming up in November is International Education Week, a nationally-recognized week highlighting the importance of studying abroad. Students can also stop by the Center for International Education office, 1,100 Student Services II, which houses information on all forms of study abroad.
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