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Belmont study abroad program sees massive growth

Belmont’s study abroad program has grown by 270 percent in the last six years, and that number will probably continue to increase in the coming years.

Over the past few years, Belmont has simplified the process for applying for study abroad, and it has also focused on offering more trips and opportunities for students to go abroad.

Most of the growth has happened through faculty-led short-term programs. Now, faculty have more freedom to develop a trip. Professors can choose to go somewhere and send a proposal to other faculty inviting them to get involved.

Faculty then have to figure out how they can match their disciplines to fit the trip. The match could be a number of things: the place, the discipline, or a theme surrounding the trip. When new faculty join, the trip is tailored so that faculty members’ interests and their disciplines match the program.

 “The magic is that the faculty get to tweak it every which way they want to,” said Mimi Barnard, the associate provost for interdisciplinary studies and global education.

This benefits faculty just as much as it benefits students, giving them opportunities to travel and study in unique locations.

 During spring break, English professor Maggie Monteverde got to live her study abroad dream, directing Belmont’s first trip to Iceland with biology professor Jennifer Thomas and political science associate professor Nathan Griffith.

Due to its isolation from other land, Iceland has remained politically, linguistically, biologically, geologically and culturally unique, making it an ideal place to study those subjects.

 “I wanted to do something multidisciplinary,” she said.

 Belmont has also worked with different majors and curricula to better accommodate study abroad for students, and the study abroad application process is now easier than ever. It can all be completed online, and students only need one letter of recommendation from a teacher.

The biggest example of this is the honors program, which has a new proposed curriculum that would have students study abroad sophomore year. Students will then have the opportunity to do an internship abroad during their junior years, Barnard said.

 Barnard firmly believes in the importance of study abroad, and she wants to make sure as many students as possible have the opportunity to experience it. She explained the importance of studying abroad through the analogy of Plato’s cave.

 “Before you have knowledge, before you know, all you see is a shadow, and then all you can do is just have a limited understanding of what those shadows even are. I think when you have an international experience, you develop what the data show, confidence and competence. And so you do it again,” she said.

 Ashley Harris, a publishing major who went to London and Edinburgh, Scotland, last May, echoed Barnard’s sentiment.

 “I was only abroad for two weeks, so it was a very short amount of time, but it really sparked something within me, and I want to go back,” she said.

“It gives you a whole new perspective on life and where you live because you are suddenly dropped into whatever country you decide to study abroad in. You have to acclimate yourself. You have to figure out what the social norms are there. It’s very different.”

 Studying abroad is also important because it helps students learn about themselves and what it means to be an American and helps to prepare students for jobs in an increasingly global workforce, said Monteverde.

“If I could, I would require every student to study abroad,” she said.

Belmont is part of Generation Study Abroad, a program from the Institute for International Education. The institute has asked schools to pledge a certain number of students to send abroad by 2020 in order to reach its goal of 600,000 students. Belmont has pledged 1000 students by 2020.

 “We did 870 last year and we will probably get pretty close to a thousand this year,” Barnard said.

 The growth in study abroad has been good for the school because both the faculty and students have been gaining from their experiences and because it attracts more students, Barnard said.

 “Now students are coming here because of study abroad. Just one more great thing about this school.”

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Photo Courtesy of Belmont’s Office of Communications

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