Top Colleges: Students find even short trips abroad are life-changing
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In her senior year at Saint Vincent College, Courtney Briggs participated in the study abroad program and became the first U.S. student to land an internship with Kennametal Inc. in Shanghai, China.
"It was the best experience of my life," said Ms. Briggs, 20, a Latrobe native, of the four-month experience during the fall semester. "I learned so much about China's business operations, culture and work ethic."
Kennametal is a global supplier of innovative custom and standard wear resistant solutions for customers in earthworks, transportation, aerospace, defense, energy and general engineering markets.
Having studied the Chinese language for four semesters at Saint Vincent, Ms. Briggs said she felt prepared to study and work in China for an extended period. She previously had done internships with Fastenal, in Greensburg, and PNC Financial Services Group, Downtown.
"Since world business is booming in China, I knew that would be the perfect place to do my third internship," said Ms. Briggs, who helped develop a safety video for Kennametal that anyone who visits one of its plants throughout Asia is required to watch.
As China emerges as an economic powerhouse, more employers favor job candidates with experience working in the country. But the benefits of studying abroad in any country can be a defining experience in a college student's life.
The Institute for the International Education of Students surveyed 3,400 alumni from study abroad programs from 1950 to 1999 and found that, regardless of where students studied and for how long, it had a lasting impact on their world view.
The survey found that students are generally studying abroad for shorter durations. The number of full-year students has declined dramatically since the 1950s. Students now typically spend 10 weeks or less studying and working abroad.
The Institute of International Education in New York reports 17,225 students from Pennsylvania colleges studied abroad during the 2009-10 school year.
Pennsylvania institutions with the highest number of foreign students in 2009-10 were Penn State University (5,207), University of Pennsylvania (4,752), Carnegie Mellon University (3,853) and the University of Pittsburgh (2,607.)
The leading places of origin for foreign students in the state are China (24.7 percent), India (17.2 percent) and South Korea (10 percent), according to the Institute of International Education.
Colleges and universities are now under increased scrutiny by accreditors who have issued warnings about setting up proper academic standards abroad and having qualified instructors teach the courses. Problems with work-study programs overseas can put colleges' U.S. accreditation in jeopardy.
The Western Association of Colleges and Schools, one of six regional college accrediting agencies, recently announced that one major Chinese-American dual-degree program, which has dozens of participating Chinese and American institutions, is out of compliance and could lose accreditation.
Some questions that agencies raise when they review international degree programs and collaborations are: which partner will vet course content and supervise students and faculty members; and how academic credit will be awarded.
The accrediting agency is, however, allowing the institutions that are out of compliance a three-year grace period to get their academic houses in order.
First Published March 20, 2012 12:00 am