Study abroad holds surprises for students

Irony: A result that is the opposite of what is or might be expected or considered appropriate.- Webster’s New World Dictionary, Fourth Edition.

Some people might call it ironic. While America’s foreign policy seems less and less accepted around the world, more and more students at Virginia Commonwealth University look forward to studying abroad.

The number of students studying abroad took a dramatic decrease in spring 2003 after the United States invaded Afghanistan. Jennifer Ludovici, director of VCU’s Education Abroad Program, said after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks many young people feared taking the chance of being a stranger in a strange land.

“Now that people have settled into the new state of affairs in the world, people are realizing that it’s just as dangerous to be in the United States as it is anywhere else,” Ludovici said.

This past summer nearly 250 students studied abroad, while this semester 36 students are studying in 26 countries including Ghana, China, Kenya, Malta and Russia.

Contrary to what some might think, the unpopularity of America and its foreign policy is all the more reason for students to consider studying overseas, Ludovici said.

“Relationships are built on an individual level,” she said. “The more we get out there the more we break down those barriers.”

Zac Childers, a junior mass communications major who studied at the University of Sydney in Australia last spring, said most students in Sydney were very politically aware and motivated.

“Once they found out I was an American the first thing they asked was what I thought about Iraq and about Bush,” he said. “They were very curious as a culture.”

Instead of being judgmental, Childers said, students there just wanted to know what he thought.

In assessing the situation, Ludovici said, people are more curious than outraged at American people overseas, because she thinks there have been no major issues with students who have studied abroad. Instead, people just question them about their views.

Childers said he, too, had no fears of foreign hatred, and safety is important to advisers and students, but it should not stop someone from going.

“I think a lot of students are very curious of what is out there and would go, but their parents are more hesitant,” he said.

Tai Jenkins, a senior majoring in English, spent last summer in a four-week program in Cuernavaca, Mexico. She said she had some uncertainty when she decided to enroll in the summer session not only because of the threats in Cuba but also because of some possible terror threats of people from countries upset with America.

Nonetheless, Jenkins said this did not deter her from going to Mexico.

“There were so many people who would just want to come up and touch you and ask you where you are from,” Jenkins said. “There were so many people that were so fascinated with meeting an American that there was not a great deal of resentment.”

On the other hand, Ludovici said travel warnings do deter some students from going to another country.

“We can’t send students to anywhere there is a travel warning,” she said. “I think what has actually happened is that with all the hype about terror in the United States, people have become a little bit cynical about it.”

Students interested in studying abroad should contact Jennifer Ludovici at 828-8471.

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