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Q&A: The importance of study abroad, international students

November 11, 2013
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ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan was ranked in the top 10 in two categories of the Open Doors Report: the international study body size (No. 8) and the number of students studying abroad (No. 10).

James Holloway, vice provost of global and engaged education, discussed the significance of the findings of the highly respected survey by the Institute of International Education, a New York-based nonprofit group.

Why is it important for a student to study abroad?

Holloway: At the University of Michigan we know that education abroad experiences provide immense value to students. These global engagements help them to develop capabilities that cannot be developed through the traditional classroom environment. These experiences help students develop their capacity to observe and discover human needs within the context of cultural values, and they help students become more flexible, persistent and self-reliant decision makers.

James Holloway

U-M had a 6 percent increase in students studying abroad in 2011-12. What were some of the factors that made this growth possible?

Holloway: The expansion in education abroad at the University of Michigan has come largely in the professional schools like engineering and business, as well as in the fine arts, and illustrates the value of creating programs tailored to the interests of students. The growth has also been greatly facilitated by putting in place the right centralized infrastructure to support the management of these disciplinary-based programs.

Can you give some examples of the “centralized infrastructure?”

Holloway: I would say it includes data systems and coordinating systems. The right data systems allow students to search for and find programs that fit their needs, and that allows us to manage the process from application, selection, tracking pre-departure requirements, departure and return. Similarly the right data systems allow us to track thousands of travelers abroad and to communicate with them when we need to.

What kind of “coordinating systems” helped increase the number of students studying abroad?

Holloway: The coordinating systems include the Council on Global Engagement, which includes study-abroad administrations along with other faculty and staff involved in international education.

They meet regularly, discuss issues, share information and collaborate. This allows our large, complex institution to simplify the steps that students have to go through in order to take advantage of education-abroad opportunities. Cooperation across multiple offices – including financial aid, registrar’s offices, education abroad offices, and advising offices – is important in making study abroad doable for students. Groups like CGE also allow successful models for engaging students to be shared across multiple units.

For the second straight year, the size of U-M’s international student body was ranked No. 8 in the nation. Why is it important to have a large number of students from abroad?

Holloway: International students diversify the campus environment in important ways. They allow domestic students to interact with and learn from others who are very different from themselves, while providing the international students with an important cross-cultural experience and challenge.

What does U-M do to help international students make the most of their experience at the university?

Holloway: U-M provides international students with a number of specialized orientation and support programs to help them come to know their new community. To further leverage the presence of international students in Ann Arbor, U-M has recently created a funding program – Ann Arbor International Student Connections – to support new ideas in bringing domestic and international students together to learn from each other.


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