The University of Michigan has the most students studying abroad among Big Ten universities and is fourth in the nation among higher education institutions.
The university had 3,130 U.S. students in 139 countries earning credit in education-abroad programs in 2017-18—the most recent academic year with complete data—according to the annual Open Doors report by the Institute of International Education, a New York-based nonprofit.
“Thanks to the efforts of our faculty and staff members across campus, the U-M has one of the most diverse international program portfolios in the country,” said Amy Conger, U-M associate vice provost for global engagement. “Learning in a different cultural setting enables students to explore new perspectives on problem solving, practice critical thinking and refine communication skills. All of these abilities are critical for success—both at U-M and after graduation.”
Not included in the report—commissioned by the U.S. State Department—are students who are not U.S. citizens. Also excluded are those who go abroad for noncredit educational experiences, such as internships, volunteer projects, research and performances.
Including these students in the total education-abroad tally, U-M had 5,427 students overseas in 2017-18—2,297 more students than in the Open Doors report.
“This past year, 36% of our graduating bachelor’s degree class pursued educational programs abroad,” Conger said. “This growth not only reflects increasing student interest, but also the work of our colleagues who advise, provide scholarships and ensure that students from all backgrounds are able to participate.”
The institution with the most students studying abroad was New York University, followed by Texas A&M University and the University of Texas.
Safety is a key concern for all of U-M’s international travelers, and the university assesses security situations worldwide, advises students about risks before they depart, and stays in close touch with them at their international sites.
U-M travelers are required to register their plans via an online system that supports emergency response abroad.
The report also looks at the size of the international student body at U.S. schools. The number of international students at U-M grew by 3.4% to 8,726 students in 2018-19, placing U-M 15th overall in the size of its international student population.
“I am pleased to see the international population at U-M continuing to increase our ranking on Open Doors,” said Judith Pennywell, director of the U-M International Center. “Their continued presence in our classrooms and community helps to ensure that all U-M graduates are prepared to thrive in a globally interconnected world.”
Serving, exploring and learning from afar
University of Michigan student Kirsten Mossberg spent a hundred days at the IES Abroad Writer’s Program in Ireland earlier this year and turned her experience into a film.
The 10-minute-long “Dear Dublin,” placed among the top three finalists—narrowed down from 99 submitted films—at the IES Abroad’s 2019 Study Abroad Film Festival. The short film portrayed a period of a “mixed bag of wonder, excitement, anxiety and homesickness” of a group of students visiting Ireland.
Mossberg, a senior majoring in acting at U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, decided to use letters written by other IES Abroad participants as the scripts for her short. The letters are ordered to give a chronological backbone, so the film starts with someone’s first days in Dublin and ends with someone leaving Dublin.
“I wanted to focus on a lot more of the emotional rollercoaster that is study abroad instead of just compiling a montage of pretty Irish landscapes,” she said. “I thought it would be cool if I stitched together the experiences of my peers so that people could get a sampling of multiple perspectives on a semester abroad and not just my own.”
The film garnered a lot of attention from the Institute for the International Education of Students, which has run the film festival since 2014. After walking the red carpet, Mossberg showed her film to a crowded audience at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago earlier this month.
“Hopefully, the audience could experience the emotional twists and turns that me and my friends felt as the 100 days progressed,” Mossberg said.
The length of her study abroad stay, she said, was the perfect amount of time to spend living and studying on the Emerald Isle.
“It’s long enough that you know you have a lot of time to explore, but also short enough that you feel an urgency to maximize the time every day,” she said.
After living in Dublin for awhile, Mossberg said she developed a personal relationship with the city—that a tourist probably couldn’t if visiting only for a short time.
“The longer you live in a place, the more specific your relationship with it gets. Life in this foreign city becomes mundane, and I think that is the absolute gift of studying abroad,” she said. “The area becomes so familiar that it just automatically becomes home. You develop routines and habits. You develop a fondness for that one freaking street you walk every day.”
From Ireland to Bangladesh
Roughly 260,000 children in Bangladesh suffer from cerebral palsy. Through a global partnership, a group of U-M students from M-Heal—a student organization that fosters interdisciplinary work in global health, design and entrepreneurship—traveled there this year to conduct a needs assessment by interviewing families and health care providers and by observing rehabilitation centers and hospitals.
The U-M team, which included four students from different schools and colleges across campus, spent two weeks in rural Bangladeshi communities. They collected data to develop and help implement improvements to cerebral palsy therapy and health care for children in Bangladesh and other low-resource settings.
“We are now analyzing all the data we collected and by the end of the winter semester, we will have a project with suggestions that can benefit their therapy programs and lack of proper nutrition,” said Anjali Vyas, a computer science major at U-M. “Data is really big now, and I want to use it as a tool to improve physical and mental wellness and help people with disabilities in an intersection of computer science and public health.”
The team is also working on an information sheet to enhance the awareness of the disease, how to get help for the kids in earlier stages, and also planning to design utensils that could be produced locally and be used easily by children with a disability.
“Finding new programs we can establish in communities in need that can help the public health is our goal for Bangladesh and also my career goal,” said Maddie Wilson, a biomedical engineering student. “My plan was to work for a medical device company and after this trip, I am sure I don’t want to sit behind a desk. I want to interact with people and do field work to discover the needs that are out there.”
Written by Mandira Banerjee and Fernanda Pires