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Study Abroad Heats Up This Summer

Gilman Scholarship Winner Lands Internship in China

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Thanks to events like the Study Abroad & International Experience Fairs at O'Leary Library, more and more students are taking advantage of study abroad opportunities.

05/29/2015
By Ed Brennen

For an international business major like Nitta Heng, a six-week internship at a financial firm in Shanghai is an invaluable opportunity.

Thanks to her Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, Heng will be getting that immersive, real-world experience this summer — all while earning six credits toward her degree.

“I’m excited,” says Heng, a senior-to-be in the Manning School of Business who departs for China on June 23. “They have the second largest economy in the world, so the experience should be good for my education.”

Heng received a $3,500 scholarship from the Gilman program, which has helped cover study abroad expenses for nearly 17,000 U.S. college students since 2001. Sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the federal program is open to undergraduates who are both U.S. citizens and Pell Grant recipients.

“When I applied I told myself I was going to get it, but actually seeing the email was kind of shocking because I felt like it’s a very competitive scholarship,” says Heng, who also received a $1,000 scholarship from CAPA International Education, the study abroad partner program that is running her trip.

Going places

Since opening in the fall of 2012, the Office of Study Abroad and International Experiences has seen steady increases in both overall student participation and the number of faculty-led programs. Heng is one of 103 UMass Lowell students studying abroad this summer, up from 79 last year. Many of those students are traveling on one of seven faculty-led programs, which is up from five in 2014.

It’s a trend that Study Abroad Director Fern MacKinnon expects to continue.

“We’re working with departments on different program options and encouraging students to participate,” says MacKinnon, whose office is moving from O’Leary Library to University Crossing 370 in mid-June, which will help increase program access for students on East and North campuses.

“There’s a broad opportunity for student interests,” MacKinnon adds. “We can place them in a lot of different types of programs based on what the student needs academically, personally and long-term professionally.”

Among this summer’s faculty-led programs, the Honors College is holding its first-ever course, “Special Topics in Honors: Basque Cultural Immersion,” in San Sebastian, Spain. Led by faculty members Julian Zabalbeascoa and Sean Conway, 20 students will spend three weeks exploring Spanish history, politics, culture and more, completing lessons dedicated to learning the craft of immersion writing. Like all students studying abroad this summer, they will be encouraged to blog about their experience.

Another avenue students have to study abroad is through one of the university’s many academic partnerships. On May 15, five students from the Francis College of Engineering traveled to Pforzheim University in Germany to begin a six-week, nine-credit summer school program. The students are taking two engineering courses and one German language course, studying alongside peers from Penn State and Lehigh University.

“It’s a very competitive program and it’s exciting that they’re in the mix,” says MacKinnon, who credits Engineering Dean Joseph Hartman for forging the partnership with Pforzheim.

World ready

Nationwide, the number of undergrads who study abroad has grown steadily over the past 25 years, although it’s still at less than 10 percent of the college population. A recent survey of American college students found that while 54 percent want to study abroad, those that do not cite cost and language skills as their biggest deterrents.

MacKinnon knows it takes time for the idea of studying abroad to gain traction.

“The word is certainly spreading, but it takes time to build,” says MacKinnon, who notes that the fall and spring program numbers are growing, as well: 31 students went abroad in fall 2014 (up from seven in fall 2013) while 21 students went abroad this past spring semester.

Heng, a native of Cambodia who moved to Lowell when she was 13, is thankful for her upcoming opportunity. She says she’s always been inspired to travel to learn how other people around the world live.

“I’m a little nervous about going to a country where I don’t know anybody and I don’t speak the language, but that’s the best part of it,” says Heng, who will stay in a dorm at East China Normal University.

In addition to spending 20 hours a week interning at the financial firm, Heng will take a three-credit internship class and a three-credit Chinese language course. While she’s excited to experience some of China’s best historical and cultural sites, she doesn’t hesitate when asked what she’s looking forward to most.

“The street food!” she says. “I want to try everything.”