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Abroad program thrives

Meghan Wons | Thursday, November 30, 2006

This year’s Institute of International Education’s annual report, “Open Doors”, showed Notre Dame has the sixth largest percentage of students participating in study abroad programs among American research universities.

The report – comprised of data collected through 2004-2005 on student participation in international study – concludes that about 58 percent of Notre Dame students participate in study abroad programs at some point during their academic careers.

Julia Douthwaite, assistant provost for international studies at Notre Dame, said she was happy with Notre Dame’s sixth place finish, but thinks there is still room to improve. She suggested there are undiscovered opportunities for meaningful student academic and cultural experiences in the international community.

“We would like to be number one,” she said, “but we are certainly holding our own.”

“I would like to see 80 percent of our students go abroad – either for a semester, year or during the summer,” Douthwaite said. “I think students need to be abroad for a minimum of six weeks for the optimal experience.”

International studies department administrator Joan Clark said there was a 76 percent acceptance rate of study abroad applicants during the 2005-2006 school year, making study abroad competitive but feasible for interested Notre Dame students.

The application deadline for study abroad in the 2007-2008 academic year was Nov. 15, Douthwaite said. She did not have exact statistics on applications received for the 2007-2008 academic year because her office is still in the process of reviewing them.

She said the international studies staff would be discussing application numbers and trends at a meeting today.

She does know the “numbers (of applications) were good.”

“All of our programs are growing,” she said. “Students are definitely interested in studying abroad. There is no downswing here.”

Students can choose from 19 different study abroad locations, with sites from Notre Dame’s largest program in London to the recently instituted program in Uganda.

Notre Dame study abroad programs provide experiences as diverse as the locations available to students. Immersion in a foreign language, acting on the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, being temporarily adopted by a French family and studying economic development in Uganda are all available.

During any given semester, the size of the University’s diverse abroad options can range from over 100 students in the London program to a sole Domer enrolled at a foreign university.

Douthwaite said that London draws the most applicants annually, with Dublin, Toledo and Rome tied for second place.

Senior Packy Cain was one of 10 Notre Dame students who studied abroad in Innsbruck, Austria during the 2005-2006 academic year. He said he lived in a dormitory but also had an Austrian “guest family” – a family that volunteered to have a relationship with Cain during his time in the family’s home country.

“If I were to look back at the whole year, I think the most memorable things for me would be the little things – visiting my guest family every Sunday for lunch, noticing myself adapting to the culture and becoming more a part of the international community,” Cain said.

Douthwaite said she is excited that Notre Dame students seek to engage with the international community. She is especially excited that a growing number of students choose to study in less traditional locations.

“The big surprise this year was that students are applying to the more challenging locations,” Douthwaite said.

She said numbers of applications for study in Cairo, Uganda and China have noticeably increased.

Study in Uganda is a relatively new program, Douthwaite said.

“Notre Dame joined the consortium with the School for International Training in the course of the 2004-2005 school year,” Douthwaite said.

“We recruited students [to study in Uganda] in 2005-2006, and this year we have our first cohort of students there as part of an official ND program,” she said. “But students have been going on this program – either independently or during the summer – for several years prior to 2004.”

Douthwaite said she thinks providing students with opportunities for international education is imperative to Notre Dame’s mission as a Catholic university “to (help students) gain a sound understanding of other cultures and to master a second language as part of their commitment to attaining compassion for other people.”

Douthwaite said the study abroad experience ultimately plays an important role “to strengthen student resolve to work for social justice.”