By Patricia Alex / The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) / (MCT)
HACKENSACK, N.J. – Most community college students haven’t left their counties for school; now a push is under way for them to leave the country.
Bergen Community College in New Jersey is one of more than 240 schools that are part of an initiative by the global Institute of International Education to double the number of American students studying abroad by 2019. Community colleges are vital to this effort because nearly half of the nation’s undergraduates attend the two-year schools, said Daniel Obst, a deputy vice president at the institute.
“A lot of people think this is something that only wealthy students in their third year can do,” said Amparo Codding, a dean at Bergen Community. “It’s not; you just have to plan ahead to make it work.”
Study abroad has burgeoned over the last generation, and programs are available at most four-year colleges. Still only about 14 percent of U.S. college students study internationally, according to the institute. And just over 5,200 of the more than 283,000 American students studying abroad are from community colleges, according to the most recent figures available.
But interest is growing.
“Community colleges were marginally involved previously, but we are seeing momentum now,” Obst said, referring to recent statistics showing a 13 percent increase in the number of two-year college students studying abroad.
Bergen student Emily Setteducato of Fair Lawn, N.J., spent July studying Italian in Tuscania, an ancient hamlet about a 90-minute drive northwest of Rome. She learned to live life without a car and used her weekends to travel to other parts of Europe.
“When I heard about it, I jumped at the opportunity,” said Setteducato, who is studying education at Bergen. “I realized, coming back, that all I want to do is travel.”
Federal student aid and loans can be applied to study abroad, and there are federal and private scholarships. One, the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, run by the U.S. State Department, is specifically for low-income students.
Some foreign governments also offer scholarships for overseas students.
Francia Valenzuela, a 20-year-old business and computer science student, said she hoped that studying Japanese in Japan would give her more job opportunities.
Codding, who came to the United States as an exchange student from Colombia more than three decades ago, said that the study abroad experience was “transformative” for students, who come back with a stronger sense of independence and wider world view.
“They want to travel more, learn more, see more and do more,” Codding said. “What’s most important from my perspective is that they come back with a sense of independence; they really learn about themselves and their boundaries.”
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