The University Record, February 6, 1996

Students seek overseas study programs that help them explore their heritage, learn foreign languages

By Carlean Ponder
News and Information Services 

In a shrinking world, study abroad is expanding, and the University's programs for overseas study and the number of students taking advantage of them continue to increase.

"Students still want to go to Europe," says Carol Dickerman, director of the Office of International Programs (OIP), "but there is an increasing interest among students in areas that reflect their ethnic heritage."

Now, it's quite common for students to request a location in which they have family heritage. Jamaica, Latin America, Ireland and Mexico are typical of areas where the student may feel "at home." But for those of African-American or European heritage, the cultural differences in some of these study areas can be a challenge.

"In Jamaica, Black students find themselves as part of the majority whereas white students suddenly become the minority," says Lynn Aguado, student services assistant at OIP.

The same situation could occur when students of Hispanic heritage enroll in programs in Africa or Asia. Still, it is the language programs and cultural exposure that lure students to participate in programs abroad, Aguado says.

The U-M offers overseas programs throughout the year. While most encompass the academic year or one term, there are others available for students who want to spend a shorter time or the summer months studying abroad.

The University is expanding its 45 overseas programs into less-frequented parts of the world and last year offered its first study-abroad options in Australia, China, Korea and Ghana.

While classes taught at the University of Ghana in Legon are taught in English, students also must enroll in a Twi language course. The requirement aids in culturally integrating the students at their chosen site, Aguado says.

The U-M also is participating in a program with the Council on International Educational Exchange in Vietnam, a term-long program focusing on language, culture and history. Other students are venturing to such non-traditional areas as Chile, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Finland, Indonesia and Russia.

Becoming fluent in a foreign language is still a major impetus for students interested in studying abroad, Aguado says. The increasing need for a second language in the business world attracts students from a variety of study concentrations.

One student who recently came to the University from Japan attended a program in Finland so he could learn Finnish. The student's host family in Ann Arbor included a grandmother who only spoke Finnish. To learn how to converse with her, the student applied for study in Finland.

The U-M permits students to complete language requirements through selected programs such as the summer session in St. Malo, France. This year, nearly 400 of the 16,000 students enrolled in LS&A will be participating in study programs overseas through OIP, and a like number will be doing so through programs directed by other schools in the University.

"Before, people wanted to finish their education with European style," Aguado says. "Now, going abroad is more of a starting point than a finishing point."