The SMU abroad office addresses concerns and makes changes

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O'Donnell stands in front of a pub with her same name while visiting Amsterdam for a weekend with friends Photo credit: Sissy Dreyer

Junior Katherine O’Donnell always knew she wanted to study abroad for a semester. Little did she know how difficult the process would be.

O’Donnell, a marketing major, spent her fall 2014 semester at City University in London. But before she got there, she had a heck of a time finding classes at City that would count toward her SMU degree. And while SMU approved her London program generally, not all of her SMU teachers approved of the individual courses, making it difficult to get credit.

“I had a lot of difficulty getting classes approved before leaving for my program, even though I went through an SMU approved provider program. Now that I am back, my grades have still not been inputted into Access, even though I received my grades over a month ago,” said O’Donnell

Stories like O’Donnell’s are familiar to many students. That is why study abroad officials are making going abroad simpler, forging partnerships with individual teachers and SMU departments, and smoothing the transcript process.

“We need to create pipelines. Having freshmen programs that start students out with the abroad experience, and then for them to decide what the next step should be, a semester or internship abroad,” said Catherine Winnie, the director of Study Abroad at SMU.

The SMU Abroad office is addressing these issues by generating awareness among academic departments and students. The abroad office hopes to foster more interest among students and an easier process to study abroad.

Generating awareness for study abroad will help the SMU abroad office grow its programs, provide more courses, and appeal to a greater audience of students on campus. A new program launched this semester making previous students who studied abroad advisors and ambassadors for the abroad office should also help.

“The student advisors and ambassadors have already proposed many ideas for how to increase student participation in study abroad and how to make the process more student-friendly,” said Cori Hill, a SMU faculty abroad advisor.

The abroad office is also developing more programs directed at younger students to develop an interest in studying abroad.

Despite the popular trend of students going abroad over the summer, the abroad office is working hard to help support semester-long studies. The emphasis on summer programs has its benefits because SMU faculty, allowing for automatic course approvals, teach most of the courses.

“Already this summer we have 400 students studying or interning abroad,” said Winnie, director of the study abroad programs at SMU.

One of the biggest obstacles students face by not going through SMU programs is course approval and transcripts being acknowledged through Access. The abroad office wants to get departments more involved to find more programs with courses that fit their curriculum.

“I think a semester is the perfect amount of time because it isn’t too short or too long. Its long enough that you feel like you really got to live and not be a foreigner in your new country, and its short enough that its the perfect time to come back to the States”, said Olivia Marcus, a junior at SMU who spent her fall 2014 semester in Paris.

Although summer time abroad is the popular trend at SMU, other students choose a semester to fully emerge them in another culture. Those students who choose to take the leap and go away for a semester face challenges to make it happen. Destination and course approval are the two biggest obstacles.

The SMU Abroad office is making changes in generating awareness for their programs. This will also help getting academic departments support in finding more programs, which will give students an easier time for class approvals and transcripts to be spent faster.

“We need to build affiliations for each department with that specific department”, said Winnie.

Since not many semester-long destinations provide courses SMU approves, especially in specific majors like communications or business, students face challenges receiving credits and grades.

“There is a lot of disconnect between the abroad office and academic departments. They are on completely different pages when it comes to approving credits,” said Marcus.

Not only is the abroad department involving the faculty but also students who previously studied abroad by launching a new program this semester. Students serve as abroad advisors and ambassadors providing assistance for future students interested in studying abroad.

The program allows for more communication between faculty and students. Faculty advisors can direct students interested in study abroad to the page where they can search for students by program, location, major, and minor. Both abroad ambassadors and advisors have their information attached to the abroad website, but advisors are students who have taken a more active role in promoting study abroad.

“Having been through the application process themselves, Student Advisors can assist with general advising and provide tips for the interested students on how to choose a program, petition courses for approval, and properly complete the application,” said Hill.

“We are there to honestly address any concerns the student may have to help ensure a great abroad experience should they choose to go,” said Sarah Levin who studied in Madrid during her fall 2014 semester and is now an advisor.

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