Study abroad merges college classes with foreign living, travel for students

Posted December 11, 2021


“When [I am] in the Galapagos, which is about 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador, I even start dreaming in Spanish. One of my favorite things to do is go to the street market, pick the lobster and the way I want it prepared, and sit at one of the outdoor tables with a group of strangers. You meet people all over the world, trade adventure stories, and have a lobster dinner for $10.”

This vivid account is just one of many memorable study-abroad experiences that stand out to Heidi Carr, a professor in University of Miami’s School of Communication who has taught several programs around the world. Regardless of when and where, college students should take advantage of the chance to study overseas. Study Abroad is the opportunity of a lifetime for personal growth, exposure to different cultural norms, and creating lifelong memories. 

Britni Strobeck (left), Fiona Victor (center), and Brianna Oard spent their first semester of college studying at The American University of Rome (AUR) through the University of Miami’s URome program. The photo depicts the trio taking a selfie atop the Milan Duomo during a weekend trip (Photos by Brianna Oard).

College students participate in study abroad programs at various points throughout their undergraduate school years.

According to Andrea Ruffoni Semidey, a program coordinator in the Study Abroad Department, logistic factors like academic major and course schedules influence which semester college students opt to study abroad. Programs vary in length, from one semester to one year, and some are limited to the summer. 

“I think the best time to study abroad depends on each student’s curriculum, and when they have the most flexibility in their course schedule. Thus, I recommend studying abroad when the student can take the most electives and of course, when they feel they are ready for an adventure,” Ruffoni Semidey said.

When colleges make admissions decisions for each incoming freshman class, some offer prospective admits the chance to study abroad during the fall semester or the entire year before beginning their academic careers at the university. 

Fiona Victor, a recent UM alumna, was one of a select group of freshmen spring admits who participated in one such program, URome, in 2017. She spent her first semester of college at the American University of Rome (AUR), where she “learned how to survive on her own” and forged deep friendships.  

“[URome] was my first time away from home for so long. It took time to adjust and find foods I was able to eat, do my laundry, and use public transportation… I made lifelong friends. Some people [from URome] I stayed great friends with throughout college and still talk to [them] post-graduation,” Victor said. 

On the other side of the study abroad experience are the professors — our well-travelled educators, guides, and mentors. Some UM study abroad programs are led by professional UM professors, some of whom have taught in multiple countries.

Rome is among one of many cities across the world where UM students can study abroad. One favorite site is The Colosseum, an historic landmark in the Italian capital.

Joseph Treaster, a professor in UM’s School of Communication, has taught programs in Sweden, the Galapagos Islands, and London for the past decade.

Treaster views each of the study abroad programs he has taught as a unique experience, with classes which include a variety of student majors such as business, music, engineering, education, political science, communications, and more.

“If you’re a business major, maybe what you do is a project on the business of, say, live theatre in London, or maybe you want to do a piece about how the BBC makes money. [We are] really trying to take students abroad and engage them in culture and show them all the potentials and help them see the contrasts between wherever they grew up and wherever they are [studying abroad] … So, I want to [give] students the broadest possible overseas experience. And I think it really opens people’s minds to broaden their worldview. And it is an enormous inspiration for you… you start seeing things you didn’t see before,” Treaster said. 

A former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, Treaster finds it impossible to name a favorite city or trip from his abundance of international travels. Rather, in large part due to the sense of discovery, Treaster revealed that “the next place that [he] has not been” is his favorite place.

“I’m just scrambling all the time to go and consume more of the world and more than out there. And I don’t care where I go, you know, I’ve been to more than 100 countries” Treaster said.

Dr. Bruce Garrison, a journalism professor in UM’s School of Communication, takes a different approach to his study abroad programs. 

Studying abroad provides students the opportunity with students travel to world-caliber destinations such as Italy’s Venice.

“I loved all the places [I took students for study abroad], or I would not have selected them to take students there. [All foreign destinations] are different and appealing in many varying ways. For me, favorite is not the right approach. It is how much you know the place. You are leading students, teaching about the history and culture of the place, incorporating friends and colleagues into the classes, taking tours of the best landmarks and sites, and immersing in the culture,” Garrison explained.

“I was so stuck in my ways the first few weeks and was terrified of exploring alone. But that is how you learn and create memories!! If you want to go, see something in the city you are in but no one else wants to go… GO!! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, go explore and do things YOU want to do!” Victor encouraged.           

Whether they are fully decided or not about studying in a foreign destination, it is essential that students take advantage of the experience. If they end up going overseas, Heidi Carr, the UM professor, stressed the importance of immersing yourself with the local culture.

“Any time you get the opportunity to study abroad, grab it! Say yes to every opportunity. It’s not a vacation — it’s really a chance to live in that country and experience the language, the food, the history, the environment, the everything, as a local,” Carr emphasized.

Carr’s advice to anyone contemplating a study abroad echoes that of Fiona Victor, the recent UM alumna, who stresses that students should go with an open mind.

Editor’s note: Brianna Oard, the author, participated in the URome program and was roommates with Fiona Victor.

What Does Study Abroad Offer?

  • Travel the world
  • Creates lifelong memories
  • Forms friendships with peers
  • Personal and educational growth
  • Different culture norms