DON’T LET BARRIERS STOP YOU
By Tamara Sherman
Jarrett Wright in Nice, France with UC Berkeley’s summer 2016 study abroad program. Photo courtesy of Jarrett Wright.
If you could study abroad, where would you go and what would you study? A semester in Italy to study art, in Germany to study politics, or in Japan to study media? Students dream of studying abroad, but perceived barriers stop them from pursuing their goal.
Less than 10 percent of American college students study abroad, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE). At Peralta Community College District, between 2014 and 2016, 113 students participated in a study abroad program. Drew Gephart, Peralta’s International Services Manager, wants to double that number of students studying abroad by 2020.
For students, the barriers to studying abroad can seem daunting: non-transferable credits, delaying graduation, incurring debt or loss of current home and employment.
“We want to be able to help students go abroad because the stats show, students who study abroad actually have a greater chance of college retention and completion,” said Gephart. “Having traveled abroad and seeing others who have, I have seen how it has changed their lives.”
The initial questions students should answer to help create an action plan to knock down those barriers are: What do I want to study? Where do I want to go? How much money do I want to spend? How long do I want to go for? Do I want to earn credit or just have an interesting experience? Gephart suggests the online site, gooverseas.com where students search by country, program type or term. Once you have your answers, research and navigating the system becomes easier.
Time, Credits, and Graduation
If you are on a tight two-year to a four-year transfer plan and do not want to risk prolonging graduation, there are alternatives to the traditional year or semester long programs. Short-term programs for a month or a few weeks are viable options.
The Gilman Scholarship offers awards up to $3000 to students studying abroad for at least four weeks, or a two-week program specifically for community college students. This can also be a workable solution for students with housing and employment barriers who are unable leave for three to four months.
To ensure your course credit abroad will count towards graduation, work with your Peralta department chair. “Download a syllabus, take it to the department chair, and ask, does this course qualify for any classes at Peralta?” suggests Gephart. Admissions and Records has a petition for a substitution form available on their website. “Students should get it approved before they go and to have the documentation. There is a way to transfer the credits; they will need to do the work ahead of time and consult an academic counselor.”
Peralta students can also participate in other college study abroad programs such as City College of San Francisco and UC Berkeley summer program. Jarrett Wright, former BCC student and current UC Berkeley undergraduate, took this opportunity during the summer of 2016. “I knew I wanted to go to Cal., and I happened upon a presentation given by the Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology on Cal Day 2015. They were talking about a program focused on innovation, creativity, and start-ups. It was essentially, how you move from the idea cloud, to product in hand, team in place, and company started in three weeks flat.”
Wright visited the program’s website, and discovered students could spend a summer in Nice, France participating in a start-up incubator. “I was looking at the criteria, and it read ‘one year of college required.’ I wanted to be prepared as best I could because I was afraid that there was some kind of hidden requirement like I had to be a UC student.”
Wright spent the summer and fall of 2015 tracking down the staff of the program to get more information. “I was trying to find them but they were having new offices built. I would show up at one location and it would be closed. I emailed the contact person who was in a third location but she was hard to pin down.” Once he did, it was true, the only requirement was one year of college.
Money, Money Money
The number one barrier for students who want to study abroad is finances. Each program is different when it comes to cost. Third party organizations offer scholarships to encourage students to participate in their programs. API Study and Intern Abroad offer scholarships from $250 to $1000. Trips can also be organized through third party organizations such as World Teach or Carpe Diem Education, who handle travel arrangements lodging, and airport pickups.
Peralta sponsored programs to Ethiopia and Ghana, typically cover all of the logistics, travel, lodging, meals, and travel insurance. “The African American Studies Department at Merritt has been doing trips forever, longer than I’ve been here,” said Gephart. “They do a lot of fundraising to keep the program at a low cost.”
Drew Gephart presented at the Institute of International Education (IIE) 2016 Best Practices Conference. Photo Courtesy of Drew Gephart.
Wright was in a difficult position and had to be creative in order fund his study abroad program to Nice, France. “I was in a weird place. I was leaving BCC in spring 2016, starting UC Berkeley in fall 2016 and the program happened in summer 2016. The program fee and tuition was $5,700, plus a $400 deposit and my flight cost. I felt like that guy in the movie who is tuck in the airport. But I had to go and if you want it bad enough you’re willing to do what it takes.”
He applied for as many scholarships as possible, some far outside the box. “I was working with the Peralta Foundation to find out about new scholarships. I went to their workshops and TAP, so I knew how to craft an essay.” Gephart advised him to start a GoFundMe page.
“I had an elevator pitch so anybody and everybody I bumped into knew what I wanted. I’d say, Did you see my GoFundMe page? Here take a look. Some people would say, I saw your fundraising page and hand me $40.”
During his time at Peralta District, Wright was involved in Umoja and assisted in writing the student equity plan. “People knew my work ethic and my reputation came with me. I asked for help, and when that person was unable to help, they would say, but go talk to this person. You are going to get a ton of no’s. Are you going to let those no’s be a wall or speed bump?”
In addition to his GoFundMe campaign, Wright was awarded six scholarships. He covered the program costs plus a little extra for trips to Spain, Morocco, and Rome with his classmates. “Because it was a summer program, I did not have to come up with three months’ worth of rent. It was a four to six-week program and I earned six units of UC Berkeley credit.”
Peralta’s study abroad website has a link to a scholarship database. Students can go to StudyAbroad.com and search for funding. There are two language scholarships available from the U.S. Department of State. “I would love to have more students apply for those because they are full ride scholarships, basically free,” said Gephart.
Although applying for a financial aid loan is possible, Gephart strongly warns against it, “I would recommend scholarships, fundraising or using their financial aid such as FAFSA. There is so much money out there, it is just a matter of doing the work.”
Wright will be graduating next year with a BA in Rhetoric and he’s planning to apply to Harvard Business School in 2020. He recalls his time in France, “What I learned was invaluable. It shaped my time at Berkeley. You are spending six weeks with the same people and you are doing everything together so you have a special bond with these people. There were 80 people on that trip and every day on a campus of about 37, 000 students, I saw at least one from the program. Seeing those familiar faces made it a little bit smaller, intimate and manageable.”
Peralta’s Office of International Education estimates 107 students will study abroad programs in 2017, doubling the total from last year.
To learn more about available opportunities, sign up for the study abroad newsletter: http:// web.peralta .edu/international/study- abroad- newsletter or contact Drew Gephart at (510) 587-7834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.