Short-term Trip, Long-term Effects

By Julie O’Melia

Fact: 97 percent of college students who study abroad are hired within 12 months of graduating. Here’s another: 100 percent of students who study abroad have higher GPAs than those who do not, according to the International Programs Office at Worcester State University.

So why do some students still choose to stay home instead of expanding their knowledge and improving their career prospects through international travel? There are a few main culprits, like the fear of high cost, homesickness, and not enjoying life abroad. This is where short-term study abroad comes into play.

Thirteen years ago, professor Suzanne Gainer decided to lead a trip to Costa Rica. Today, she currently leads the longest running short-term and faculty-led study abroad program at WSU. Gainer started this trip before there was an International Programs office at the university and is considered a pioneer of faculty-led programs.

Professor Gainer’s course is called “Ecotourism and Photography in Costa Rica,” and the trip is held every spring break. Applications for the course begin in the fall, and the course begins the first week of the spring semester. The class is held once a week and students learn the basics of photography including photo shop.

Gainer graduated from Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA with a bachelor’s degree in communications. Later, she received a master’s degree from Rhode Island University in photography and has been teaching the subject to college students since receiving her degree. Through this course, she is able to combine her love for travel, art, and teaching.

Jess Birchenough is a psychology student and is currently enrolled in the course. She recently got back from Costa Rica and cannot wait to visit the country again.

“This course counted towards my creative arts requirement. I absolutely loved the waterfalls; we even got to swim under them. I also really loved hiking through the rainforests,” said Birchenough.

The main purpose of the course is to teach students photography, but the course holds a deeper meaning as well. Costa Rica is considered one of the most environmentally sustainable countries in the world. With 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity under its belt, ecotourism is one of the driving forces of Costa Rica’s booming economy. That being said, environmental sustainability is an essential part of Costa Rican culture. In fact, Costa Rica hopes to be the world’s first carbon-neutral country by the year 2021. This trip is meant to give students an appreciation for the world they live in and teach them to take care of the planet.

Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations for short-term study abroad for WSU students. However, it is not the only one. Professor Carlos Fontes will be holding his annual trip to the Amazon this May. This course aims to promote indigenous survival, and cultural acceptance. Applications are still being accepted for this course, but time is running out.

WSU also offers trips to Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, France, and Spain. Most trips run through spring break, but trips to the Amazon, France, Spain, and a new trip to India will be held at the end of May. Worcester State’s new Global Writing and Reporting trip to India will take off May 15 and the group will return June 5. This trip is coming to the university at the perfect time as the group sets sail just as a proposal for a new journalism minor is being considered by curriculum committees on campus.

Short-term study abroad trips are more affordable than an entire semester abroad, and financial aid is available. One of the benefits of going abroad with a professor is that you get to learn about something beyond the classroom by applying what you learned to the real world. Statistics show the benefits of studying abroad, and WSU has put years of work into putting the world at a student’s fingertips.

Don’t miss out on these opportunities. For more information visit the International Programs Office on the third floor of the Student Center.

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