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SIS Abroad Makes the World a Classroom

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Many students dream of studying abroad in a foreign country during their time in college, and the SIS Office of International Programs (OIP) is helping students turn those dreams into reality. OIP offers a variety of services to aid graduate students in finding, applying, and preparing for study abroad programs. With dual degrees, semester-long programs, summer and intersession programs, and internships, OIP has partnership programs to fit any student's needs. As borders continue to reopen and COVID-19 restrictions ease, OIP is dedicated to getting students back out into the world to learn and explore.

We caught up with the Director of SIS International Programs and Partnerships, Christine Gettings, to help break down OIP’s services and discuss the various programs available to students. We also chatted with three SIS graduate students who participated in study abroad programs to discuss their experiences.

Global Partnerships

The COVID-19 pandemic brought study abroad programs to a halt for nearly two years, but as OIP works to return to pre-pandemic level operations, some strategic changes have been made when evaluating program offerings.

“With the pandemic, some programs that previously had lower numbers were sort of naturally sunset, but we’ve been fortunate to re-establish many of our signature programs and partnerships as we move forward,” says Gettings. “We’ve also taken the opportunity to search for new and exciting opportunities like our partnership with KU Leuven in Belgium.”

OIP currently has partnerships with institutions in 20 different countries, so SIS graduate students have numerous options when considering a study abroad program. Along with a variety of locations, students can also choose among different program lengths. Semester-long programs are currently offered in Asia, Europe, and South America, and include unique partnership institutions such as the Peruvian Diplomatic Academy, University for Peace in Costa Rica, and the newest—KU Leuven in Belgium.

For students looking for a longer program, dual-degree programs are offered with the University for Peace in Costa Rica, Ritsumeikan University in Japan, and Korea University in South Korea. Students can earn two master's degrees through these programs, typically spending their first year at AU and the second year abroad at the partner school.

Students who are looking for a shorter international experience can attend a summer program or an intersession program, including the Cambridge Security Initiative in the UK, the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland, or the Geopolitical Frontiers in the South Caucasus program in Tbilisi, Georgia. Students find there is a lot to be learned in a short time.

“The shorter summer programs and short-term programs are definitely worthwhile, and they have a lot of value even though they're not as long. At the Graduate Institute, I got to take three courses, so it was a new course each week with new people, professors, and field experiences,” says Ayanna Dawkins, SIS/MA ’23, about her time at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland.

Academics Abroad

Sumi Lee, SIS/MA ’23, spent a semester at the Peruvian Diplomatic Academy and maximized her academic experience by auditing classes alongside her courses for credit: “I took three courses for credits: International Organizations and Multilateral Policies, International Economic Relations, and International Law. And PDA allowed me to audit two other courses, International Negotiations and Socioeconomic Reality of Peru. Through the courses for credits, I got a better understanding of the field of diplomacy and relations among different Latin American countries. I enjoyed the two audit courses the most, as they taught me useful practical skills and allowed me to learn more about the socio-economic difficulties and diverse social issues in Peru.”

For students looking to study abroad, finances are often one of the main questions that OIP receives. For all study abroad programs through OIP, students pay the same AU tuition and fees that they normally pay, and their financial aid packages are eligible to be applied to the semester abroad. While students are responsible for airfare, accommodations, and other expenses while abroad, many AU/SIS scholarships are available. External fellowship programs and region-specific scholarships to help cover study abroad expenses are also available.

The World as a Classroom

Studying abroad provides students an opportunity to gain knowledge outside the classroom by immersing themselves in new cultures, languages, and places. While adjusting to new places can be difficult at first, Elisabeth Foster, SIS/MA ’23, was surprised at how quickly she felt at home when she studied abroad in Amman, Jordan: “Despite the numerous differences in the lifestyle I experienced, everyone I met in Jordan was incredibly welcoming and warm. Within a few weeks, I had many people inviting me to their family homes for dinner, offering to drive me to different cities on the weekends, and tutoring me in Arabic. Though I didn’t fluently speak the language, I was welcomed as though I had been in Jordan my whole life.”

While academics are a large part of any study abroad experience, experiences outside the classroom offer just as much opportunity to learn and expand one’s comfort zone. Many programs, such as the Peruvian Diplomatic Academy, offer instructor-led field trips as part of the courses, allowing students to learn more about their surroundings and connect with fellow students.

“The whole academy went on a three-day study trip to Tacna, which is a city on the Peru-Chile border. I didn’t know anything about the historical or political relations between Peru and Chile before this trip, but the trip taught me about the history of diplomatic relations and territorial disputes between the two countries,” says Lee.

Many study abroad programs attract students of various ages from around the world, providing a diverse environment for students to learn from one another's lived experiences and share their own cultures with the group. Building relationships with classmates and faculty members can be an integral part of the study abroad experience and can provide a lifetime of connections and benefits from growing an international network.

“There were people who were 17 years old to 60 years old and people from Turkey, from Canada, from all these different places,” says Dawkins. “Every week was a new class, so every week there were different students. Some of them matriculated throughout the different weeks, but some would only come for one week, so it was a great opportunity to build relationships outside of the classroom.”

Steps to Studying Abroad

Students who are interested in graduate study abroad programs can learn more about each of the program types, locations, and requirements by visiting the OIP website. OIP welcomes students interested in studying abroad to meet with a team member as they are narrowing down their program options so they can help guide the process and consider the best options for each student. Once a student has selected a program, they will meet with OIP again before completing the application to confirm that the program will fit with their plan of study, and credits will be transferrable. Once a student is ready to apply, OIP can help with the application process, and once the student is approved for a program, they can help finalize program details. Students register their study abroad classes as exchange credits, which transfer back to AU and appear on their transcripts upon completion of the program.

“We really encourage students who are even a little bit interested in studying abroad to just come talk with us at OIP. We can help them narrow down programs, look at what fits best for their interests, and help answer any questions,” says Gettings.

For more information on the Office of International Programs and SIS Abroad please visit their website.