Study Abroad Programs Help Students Gain a Global Perspective


Thiel College students in Great Barrier Reef, Australia

College can be a time for students to expand their horizons. It provides an opportunity to meet new people and explore different ideas that may challenge their world views. For those fortunate enough to participate in study abroad programs, this involvement can be even more meaningful.


Thiel College students in China

Some local colleges provide study abroad programs as part of their commitment to a quality educational experience for their students. Thiel College is among them, offering three study abroad opportunities.


One option is a traditional, individual semester or summer abroad, said Cynthia Sutton, Thiel’s Study Abroad coordinator. The other two choices are participation in a short-term, faculty-led trip in May and participation in the Vira I. Heinz (VIH) Program for Women, Non-Binary, and Transgender Global Leaders.


“Thiel is one of only 14 schools to be invited to participate in the VIH program,” said Sutton. “For the individual semester or summer abroad and the VIH program, students can select virtually any location in the study abroad experience. We do, of course, discourage them from locations that either the State Department or the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) or WHO (World Health Organization) have listed as locations to avoid.”


For the short-term, faculty-led programs, faculty interested in leading a trip submit a proposal to the selection committee, which then chooses two locations for May. Sutton said the selection is based on several factors, including the strength of the written proposal, the experience of the faculty member, and the location suggested.


“We try to select locations that have never been selected before, or at least not traveled to recently,” Sutton said. “In May 2023, we have a planned trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, and a planned study away trip to Hawaii.”


La Roche University Italy Study Abroad program

La Roche University also offers its students the opportunity to expand their horizons through its signature Study Abroad + Study USA program, said Casey Baker, the program’s assistant director. “La Roche students may choose between a traditional, semester-long study abroad experience, or our signature Study Abroad + Study USA program.”


The Study Abroad + Study USA signature program offers short-term travel courses and covers the cost of travel, lodging, and most meals. “From Alaska and California to Cuba, Europe, and South America, La Roche students have experienced new places and other cultures,” Baker said.


Courses are developed and destinations chosen by having faculty submit course proposals based on their academic interests and how a study abroad course relates to their department. A committee then decides whether the proposal meets academic standards for a one-credit course, whether the location is safe and affordable, and if it garners interest from students, said Baker.


“Traveling abroad allows students to expand their skills for the workforce, develop problem-solving skills, foster global connections, and see the world beyond Pittsburgh,” she explained. “Experiencing another culture offers a hands-on opportunity for students to gain a global perspective.”


Living in an increasingly global community makes the program at Thiel more valuable to students, Sutton said. “The simple fact is that we live in an increasingly global community. Our students may well end up working in occupations that are global in orientation or location, and almost certainly many will work or live in settings that are culturally diverse. It is important that students develop the ability to understand and appreciate the importance of different cultures and cultural traditions.”


Students interested in participating in the study abroad opportunities offered by La Roche or Thiel must meet certain criteria first. At La Roche, they must earn 45 credits, hold a GPA of 2.0 or higher, declare a major, maintain full-time status, and be in good standing with Residence Life and Student Accounts, said Baker.


Qualifying standards are similar at Thiel. Students participating in the individual semester, summer program, or short-term May trips must be in good academic standing, with a cumulative GPA of at least 2.0, said Sutton. “The VIH program, open to sophomores and juniors, requires a minimum GPA of 3.0.”


La Roche and Thiel offer these programs to expose their students to different cultures and ways of learning. “At the most basic level, we hope that our students begin to see some of the superficial differences that can seem to divide us as well as the fundamental similarities that should unite us across various cultures,” said Sutton. “Depending on the nature and length of their experience, students also have the opportunity to gain specific knowledge or skills that would be difficult to duplicate on campus.”


Baker said that La Roche’s goal is to help students gain a global perspective and a broader understanding of the study abroad course topic. “We strive to foster international mindedness and global awareness, independent and group skills, intercultural competency, appreciation of other cultures, and a desire to travel more,” she explained.


Shady Side Academy students in Bordeaux, France

Local colleges aren’t the only ones offering study abroad programs for students. Some high schools also provide the opportunity. Shady Side Academy has partnered for many years with five overseas schools for its international exchange programs in China, France, Germany, and Spain. The academy also partners with School Year Abroad, which offers study abroad programs in France, Italy, and Spain. In addition to its partner exchange programs, the academy also hosts foreign exchange students for two to three weeks in the fall or winter.


Shady Side Academy students in China

To participate in Shady Side Academy’s international exchange programs, students must be in good academic standing, be enrolled in or have completed Level 3 of the destination country’s language, and receive recommendations from their teachers, said Chief Communications Officer Jennifer Roupe.


Academy students who qualify are encouraged to consider the program for several reasons. “Through our international programs, we hope students gain a greater understanding of the world and of the perspectives and practices of different cultures,” said Roupe. “We also hope the experience enhances their study of language, and of course that they have fun and make new friends.”

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