Caylie Zidwick is the Assistant Director in the Study Abroad Office at UMBC. A UMBC alum who studied abroad herself in Aix-en-Provence, France, Caylie sat down with us to discuss not only the steps involved with studying abroad, but also the impact the experience can have on a student’s life.
Break it down for us, as easily as you can, what are the steps students need to take if they want to study abroad?
We have tried to make the steps as simple as possible.
Step 1: Attend Study Abroad 101 (30-minute session held every Monday at 12 and Thursday at 3).
Step 2: Explore options and meet with academic and study abroad advisors to ensure the program choices fit the students' academic goals.
Step 3: Apply by the deadline! March 10 for Summer and Fall program and October 1 for January and Spring programs.
Our office has a brand new online system where students can search for and apply for programs online: goabroad.umbc.edu.
What should students consider when selecting a study abroad program?
Lots of factors guide students' program choice. We ask students to think about their goals for the experience. Do they want to enhance their language skills? Study something specific that isn't offered at UMBC such as Marine Biology of the Great Barrier Reef? Do they want to pair it with an internship or do focused research on a specific topic? Do you want to study the natural healing methods used in China or learn about tropical diseases in Central America? Do they just want to meet degree requirements? These factors all can help students narrow down where to go.
Is there an aspect of the study abroad planning process that a lot of students, in retrospect, wish they had spent more time on/focused on?
I think students sometimes forget to set specific goals for studying abroad.
It's easy to get abroad and get so wrapped up in the new experience that you forget to make it work for your future goals.
It's easy to say, "I want to become fluent in Spanish" but how do you do that once you're abroad? Spanish people aren't going to seek you out to help you practice your language so I encourage students to set specific and measurable goals. An example would be to plan on joining a club that is comprised of mostly local students and find a conversation partner who you meet with at least twice a week.
Apart from some of the more well-known, or "cliche" reasons to study abroad, why do you think students should make this a part of their college experience?
Roughly 10% of students in the USA study abroad by the time they graduate from college. Studying abroad gives students a career advantage over 90% of their peers. It shows the ability to adapt to new environments, set goals and achieve them, be independent, deal with ambiguity, and communication with people who are different from you in stressful situations. These are all skills that are valuable to employers.
If you yourself could study abroad right now, where would you go and why?
That's an unfair question! Being in my field, I want to go everywhere. As an undergraduate I went to France because I wanted to become fluent in French. Now as a professional, I'd want to go to Cuba probably because it's a place that hasn't been visited by many Americans and it's an amazing opportunity to learn about the history and culture of a country cut off from a lot of the world.
Any good stories from you own study abroad experience?
When I studied abroad I was terrified. I had never left the US before and was only okay at speaking French. On one of my first days abroad, I gained so much confidence by going into a mobile phone store and purchasing my own phone and contract in a foreign language. I hadn't even done that in the US. I told the salesperson that I understood what he was saying and asked him to speak slowly. That's when I realized I could do anything on my own. It was so empowering!