By Angela Mennecke
The Institute of International Education recently ranked College of DuPage first among community colleges nationwide for international study opportunities. According to the 2018 Open Doors Report, COD awarded credit to 207 students who studied abroad in a wide variety of locations throughout the world during the 2016/2017 school year.
“We’ve been in the top five for several years and that is something to be proud of, but number one is rewarding,” said Maren McKellin, Field Studies/Study Abroad/Global Education program manager. “This achievement demonstrates the deep commitment to a globally focused education for our students at a time when cultivating a global perspective is more important than ever. It’s our ability to have different programs for different needs that sets us apart from other community colleges and even some four-year institutions.”
The Field and Experiential Learning, Study Abroad and Global Education program at COD offers a variety of classes that use the world as their classroom, including domestic and international opportunities in a broad range of subjects. The College has offered many successful international programs since 1970 and has taken students to more than 80 countries spanning all seven continents.
“Our goal is always to get students to think outside of the box and thinking differently about their education,” McKellin said. “You can learn any subject in the classroom, but many students benefit from hands-on learning. I’ve had students say that they felt like they were not good students, but these experiential learning opportunities really changed their frame of mind. When something is right in front of you and you have that ability to apply it, it clicks for students.”
For students wanting to immerse themselves fully in a language and culture, the office coordinates traditional semester abroad opportunities. Individuals interested in learning a new language or improving one they already speak can choose from among seven Summer Language Immersion programs to locations including China, Italy and Spain. Students interested in diving deeper into a single subject, like Finland and Sweden’s Education System or the Tropical Jewels of Costa Rica, can enroll in short-term Field Studies, the most popular study abroad option at COD.
McKellin says that the international study opportunities would be few and far between at the College if it weren’t for a willing and passionate faculty.
“We have faculty members who are dedicated to leading study abroad programs and that makes all the difference,” McKellin said. “From meteorology to criminal justice to physical education, we have faculty leading classes to all parts of the world to give students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will give them lasting tools professionally, academically and personally.”
While studying abroad can seem daunting because of the cost, Field Studies/Study Abroad/Global Education staff recommend that students consider their financial situation along with their academic goals. Students are encouraged to apply for scholarships, including those offered through the COD Foundation, through private organizations and scholarships sponsored by the US Department of State, said Sue Kerby, Coordinator of Study Abroad.
Additionally, students work closely with study abroad staff and the COD Office of Financial Assistance to understand financial aid options and payment plans specific to study abroad.
“It is important that students consider the financial implications of study abroad as well as the potential academic and personal benefits,” Kerby said. “We help students make informed decisions when considering these amazing opportunities.”
Another unique aspect to the College’s program is the diversity of the student groups. This past year, 18-year-old students shared a study abroad experience with an 81-year-old, which McKellin says is mutually beneficial.
“One of the things we enjoy is seeing groups of students who are at different points in their lives come together because of their common interest in a culture,” McKellin said. “You learn best from someone who is different than you and who has different experiences than you do. Having such a diverse range of students with different goals who are able to make connections is a positive result of what we’re able to do.”
COD is one of the founding members of the Illinois Consortium of International Studies and Programs, which seeks to build and expand international opportunities for community college students. The long-standing membership means College staff have built strong relationships with partner institutions around the world, enabling COD to offer such a diverse program.
McKellin’s goal for the next year is to find students who want to study abroad, but don’t think it’s possible due to their circumstances.
“We are here as resources to help make these impossible-sounding opportunities, possible,” McKellin said. “You’re a better person, citizen and student if you have the ability to travel somewhere. It changes your context.”
For more information on all COD study abroad opportunities, visit cod.edu/field or call (630) 942-2356.