Students Gain New Perspectives, Course Credits and Career Skills Across the Globe

Students ride on a gondola on a canal in Venice Image by Sarah Georges
Graphic design major Sarah Georges snaps a selfie with classmates on a gondola in Venice during their studio workshop abroad in Italy in June.

By Ed Brennen

Nine sociology students are spending six weeks in València, Spain, working as interns with community organizations while taking three-credit courses in Spanish culture and civilization.

Eleven business students just returned from a two-week trip to Nanjing, China, where they were immersed in international entrepreneurship along with students from India.

Several other students are taking part in field-based international experiences in far corners of the world like Australia, Morocco and Ecuador.

In all, 150 UMass Lowell students are studying and working in 20 countries around the world this summer through programs offered by the Office of International Experiences & Study Abroad. That’s a 7 percent increase from the previous summer, when 139 students complemented their on-campus studies with a global experience.

“We are continuing to grow,” says Fern MacKinnon, who has served as director of the Study Abroad office since it was launched in 2012 to advance global engagement and inclusive culture at the university. “We’re always finding new ways to incorporate experiential learning and academic coursework in an international setting.”

Of the 150 students traveling this summer, 100 are taking part in 10 different faculty-led courses abroad, including a choral workshop in Tuscany, Italy, an international management course in Copenhagen, Denmark, and an Honors course on Basque cultural immersion in San Sebastian, Spain.

Other students are taking advantage of provider-led programs, exchange opportunities with partner institutions and internships and field-based experiences, which include research-focused programs. Many students and faculty are sharing their experiences – and Instagram-worthy photos – by contributing to study abroad blogs during their travels.

“We’re able to offer programs that accommodate a wide variety of students from different majors and with different trip-duration preferences,” says MacKinnon, who credits strong faculty support for the growing interest in international experiences.

Studying abroad does more than immerse students in new cultures and languages – it also gives them a leg up on their future careers. According to a recent report by the Institute of International Education, students who study abroad gain nearly a dozen “21st century workplace skills” including intercultural skills, curiosity, flexibility/adaptability, confidence and self-awareness. This expands students’ career possibilities and has a long-term impact on their career progression and promotion.

Students pose next to a Trabant car in Germany Image by Nour Khreim
Mechanical engineering major Nour Khreim, right, poses next to an old Trabant sedan during his 'Engineers Made in Germany' study abroad program this summer in Pforzheim, Germany.

“They’re creating an international network and gaining skills that are valued by employers,” says MacKinnon, who notes that employers will often ask candidates about their study abroad experience when they see it on a résumé.

With that in mind, the Study Abroad office has partnered with the Career & Co-op Center to offer résumé workshops that focus specifically on how students can best leverage their international experiences when applying and interviewing for a job.

One new way in which students can highlight their study abroad experience is through the River Hawk Experience Distinction (RHED) program, which gives them a special notation on their official transcript and a certificate of recognition. The program now includes a Global Engagement distinction, which students can earn by taking part in two global engagement experiences, one of which must be outside of the United States.

Through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity and Collaborations (UROC) program, students can also receive a stipend of up to $4,000 to put toward either a traveling seminar and exchange or on an international field-based experience. Of the 300 UROC scholars so far, MacKinnon says about 50 have chosen the international option.

Students pose in front of Torres de Serranos in Valencia, Spain Image by courtesy
Sociology students pose in front of the Torres de Serranos castle during their study abroad program in València, Spain.

Among those UROC recipients traveling this summer are biology major Alexandra Collias, who is addressing conservation in the Turks and Caicos Islands; business administration major Andre DiFilippo, who is working as an intern at a startup accelerator firm in Melbourne, Australia; and nursing major Kimberly Ng, who is working at a school for physically and mentally disabled children in Quito, Ecuador.

University partnerships are key to the study abroad programs. UMass Lowell currently has more than 100 international partnerships and exchanges around the world, including a new one this summer at the University of València in Spain. That’s where nine sociology students, led by lecturer Thomas Piñeros-Shields, are spending six weeks working as interns and doing coursework. In the spring, students from the University of València will come to UMass Lowell.

“This program illustrates the impact that experiential learning can offer a student,” MacKinnon says.

Another good example is the award-winning Global Entrepreneurship Exchange (GE2) program, developed by Manning School of Business senior lecturer Ashwin Mehta. The program expanded this summer to China, where students learned and worked with peers from Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications and KLE Technological University in Hubli, India.

“It is one thing to read about a culture, but it is even better to experience different cultures first hand,” senior business administration major Hannah Wright blogged during the trip. “Being able to step out of your comfort zone and try something new is the essence of this program.”