Study abroad programs offer students unique experiences

Study abroad programs offer students unique experiences

USD students have the opportunity to gain unique experiences studying abroad with the help of detailed planning set up by the Center for Academic and Global Engagement (CAGE).

The pre-departure process for studying abroad set students up for academic, professional and individual growth on their excursions.


Virginija Wilcox, study abroad assistant director, helps prepare students by hosting pre-departure orientations on health, safety and education on the social construct and culture of the countries students plan to visit.

“Everyone will experience culture shock on some level, but going through it makes you stronger and open up more because it enables you to start seeing things from different perspectives,” Wilcox said.

Although experiencing culture shock is common among students studying abroad, the pre-departure process equips students with resources to ease the transition.

“We provide great resources that help educate students about certain aspects of each culture in each country,” Wilcox said. “For example, if you’re a female going to the Middle East, we educate that student on laws and traditions in that country, so when they go there they know what to expect.”

Wilcox said identifying goals and mapping out an academic program are two important priorities students should consider before deciding to study abroad.

Growth and success

Mark Maxon, CAGE director, said he stresses the importance of academic success in the study abroad program.

“We’re advisors, not travel agents,” Maxon said. “We’re advising students through their educational program of study and getting them to graduate with the best experience they can have while studying abroad.”

Maxon said he aims to help students achieve their goals with life-changing experiences.

Leah Dusterhoft / The Volante

“Studying abroad is a fantastic way of learning because you acquire new insights about who you are and where you’re from,” Maxon said. “You’re able to compare and contrast issues once you’ve seen it through others peoples’ points of view, and you can’t get that if you remain in an insular environment.”

If a student is interested in pursuing a master’s degree in a subject USD doesn’t offer, studying abroad can serve as a way of getting experience to find out if that field is right for them, Wilcox said.

“Let’s say a student is thinking about getting a master’s degree in marine biology,” Wilcox said. “That student can find out if it’s something they really want to pursue by studying abroad in Australia for a semester or year and decide if going to graduate school is the right choice.”

Maxon said there is an abundant amount of scholarships available for students looking to study abroad.

“Financially planning early is a great step to studying abroad, but there are a bunch of scholarships and fellowships available to help students pay for this,” Maxon said. “Some people can get money from the foundation. Financial aid is another option along with arts and sciences offering scholarships.”

Student perspective

After attending a study abroad fair, Taylor Bergeson, a senior psychology and social work double major, said she decided to study abroad in Ormskirk, England at Edge Hill University last fall.

“Once you pick the school from the list USD provides, you apply to the school and get a study visa,” Bergeson said. “You then get a catalog of classes to rank your top five courses that pertain to your major, so I was able to complete a bunch of upper-level psychology credits.”

Bergeson said there is a six-hour training session that provides valuable information about what to bring on a trip as well as information about the cultural background of the country.

CAGE also offers an optional training process that helps students transition when they return home after their trips, which Bergeson said was extremely helpful.

“You go through highs and lows when you first arrive to the country you’re going to, but you experience the same highs and lows when you get back home as well,” Bergeson said.

Although Bergeson said she wanted to travel to parts of Europe, studying abroad was much more than exploring a new country.

“I was able to further my education with international students that I formed life-long friendships with as I studied abroad,” Bergeson said.