[dropcap]Today[/dropcap], college students can see the other side of the planet with just a click of a mouse, but nothing can replace the sights, smells, tastes and noises of actually visiting a destination in person. That’s what studying abroad is all about, says Dr. Laura Brunson, director of Education Abroad College of International Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

Studying, researching or engaging in educational service learning programs in another country in person is an experience that cannot be replicated online, says Brunson.

“Studying abroad in a country outside of the United States offers a wonderful opportunity for students to expand their horizons,” she says. “Students are encouraged to interact with local people and visit cultural sites in order to get the most out of their experience.”[pullquote]It is helpful for students to start thinking about their study abroad programs when they first enter college so they have plenty of time to select a program that is a good fit.[/pullquote]

For example, OU students can study abroad in more than 80 countries around the world on short- or long-term programs.

It can also be great for one’s career after college, says Mary Benner, the director of the Academic Services and Study Abroad Overseas Program at Oklahoma City University. Today, cultural awareness and second language proficiency are two skills that companies need, she says. A study abroad program can help students hone both, which can set them apart in today’s competitive job market.

“Studying abroad is considered one of the high-impact practices that greatly enhances a student’s undergraduate education and significantly improves their competitiveness in the job market or with graduate admissions,” says Benner. “Studying abroad can also increase a student’s self-confidence, problem-solving skills, adaptability and cross-cultural competence – all skills required in the 21st-century world.”

It can be a challenge choosing what program to participate in and when it is the right time to go.

“It is helpful for students to start thinking about their study abroad programs when they first enter college so they have plenty of time to select a program that is a good fit for them and plan their housing, finances and course schedule to minimize costs and maximize benefits,” says Brunson.

Students should speak with a study abroad advisor at their university and also with their academic advisor to learn what courses may be earned abroad, says Benner.

Once a choice is made, the next step is to figure out how to pay for it.

“Some universities allow their students to use all of their financial aid to study abroad, while others limit what aid may be used,” says Benner.

Based on these considerations, students then need to decide if a short-term summer study abroad program might be more or less cost-effective than a semester abroad.

There are several resources available so students and parents can choose the right program.

“The OU study abroad website is an excellent source of information about programs for OU students, financial resources, health and safety abroad, et cetera,” says Brunson.

Students are also encouraged to visit and to learn more about the country (or countries) they are visiting and get additional health, safety and preparation information, says Brunson.

“Students in all majors can find programs abroad to fit their degree programs,” says Benner. “The timing and length of study may vary depending on major and the encouragement from the student’s academic unit may vary by major, but programs exist for all students.”

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