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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Study abroad numbers remain steady in faltering economy

Published: November 21, 2008
Section: Front Page

Study abroad rates for the coming spring semester are predicted to remain at a steady level in spite of a poor global economy, Assistant Dean of Academic Services and Director of Study Abroad Scott Van Der Meid said. Though it’s too early to predict the exact number of students studying abroad till January, Van Der Meid does not expect any significant decrease.

“I don’t see a great increase and I don’t really see a huge decrease due to the economy at this point,” he said.

Though a poor global economy hasn’t yet greatly influenced students’ decision to go abroad, more students are applying for scholarships before going abroad to help them fund their trips. This trend also speaks to the natural higher costs of living abroad, Van Der Meid said.

“We haven’t seen a lot of reduction based on the economy but we certainly have seen a lot more questions about budgeting and scholarships and making it all work,” he said.

Economic issues weren’t a factor for Laura Ennis ’10 who had her “heart set on going” to Paris, France. “I knew I needed to save money because the [E]uro is so much stronger than the dollar (or was at the beginning of the semester) and [I] have been babysitting the whole semester and worked the whole summer,” Ennis wrote in an e-mail to The Hoot.

However, the recent economic downturn has caused Ennis to think more carefully about spending money while abroad.

“I wasn’t thinking about the economy as hindering me on going to France, but I have recognized that I have to be careful with my wallet while I am there,” she said.

The Office of Study Abroad has talked more with students about budgeting while abroad to help them address the question of “how do you live more economically in the city?” Van Der Meid said.

Such discussions target money- saving techniques while abroad, ranging from visiting museums on free days, participating in more program excursions to save money, and planning to visit the theatre on days when tickets are cheaper.

The number of study abroad participants has increased in the past few years, Van Der Meid said. Last year, over 40 percent of the junior class studied abroad during the academic year and many more went abroad during the summer for various programs.

The year before 35 percent of the junior class studied abroad.

Typically, more students choose to study abroad in the spring semester for reasons that vary from year to year, Van Der Meid said.

Factors influencing a decision to go abroad during a given semester might include friends’ study abroad plans, classes offered at Brandeis, family obligations, sports schedules, or world events.

Over the past three years the Office of Study Abroad has tried to increase participation rates for both fall and spring semesters and they’ve seen some improvement, Van Der Meid explained.

“We are closing the gap between fall and spring. It’s not 50-50 yet but we’re getting closer to that,” he said.

The Office of Study Abroad offers students 250 study abroad programs in 70 different countries worldwide.

Brandeis’ top three study abroad destinations are the United Kingdom, Spain, and Australia respectively.

Though exchange rates between the U.S. dollar and the Euro and the pound have recently started to favor Americans more, Van Der Meid said he doesn’t believe this will cause students who weren’t going to study abroad to suddenly decide to do so.

Though he won’t be studying abroad next semester, economic reasons were not a deciding factor for Andy Lewis ’10.

After an internship found Lewis working 40 hours a week in New York City over the summer, he realized he wanted to enjoy his time with friends at Brandeis. “I really wanted to enjoy college as much as I could,” he said.

Though his decision was not based on the economy, Lewis acknowledged that high exchange rates are a big issue for many students, especially those hoping to study in Europe.

The uncertainty of being secured a student loan is also a factor influencing decisions, he said.

For Tamar Ariel ’10, a poor economy didn’t necessarily impact her decision to go abroad to Israel next semester. “I know that I’ll make it work regardless of the state of the economy,” she said.

Though the poor economy hasn’t affected Ariel’s choice to go abroad for a semester, it is affecting her post study abroad plans for the coming summer.

Ariel had planned to travel to Europe and was particularly excited about visiting England, but the poor economy has changed her plans.

Though there isn’t currently a huge shift away from students studying in Europe, students might be choosing study abroad programs outside of traditionally expensive areas such as London, Van Der Meid said.

Ariel said many students already anticipate expensive costs for study abroad regardless of economic variables: “People realize it’s going to be an expensive event so they plan ahead for that and even if it’s going to be more expensive than they anticipated they’re willing to take it, at least it was that way for me.”