UT study abroad participation increases despite rigid degree plans

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Photo Credit: Lex Rojas | Daily Texan Staff

Study abroad participation has increased over the last three years, which the International Office attributes to the University’s increased focus on career readiness. 

Participation in Maymesters ­­— four-week study abroad programs led by UT faculty — have increased by 41 percent in three years, compared to a 3-percent growth for semester-long programs, according to the International Office. 

Study abroad director Heather Thompson said Maymesters may be increasing in popularity because they can easily fit into rigid degree plans. 

“Maymesters are scripted,” Thompson said. “They’re package deals. If you’re a student who wants to go abroad but you’re feeling overwhelmed and your degree plan is not your friend and your college has 10 Maymesters, you’re going to click and go.” 

Aerospace engineering junior Michael Worthington said his Maymester in Vienna, Austria allowed him to stay on track for his degree plan. 

“If I did a semester-long program, I would be taking fewer hours than I normally would here (at UT), but doing the Maymester, I would be taking classes when I otherwise wouldn’t be taking classes,” Worthington said. “It was just taking summer classes that just happened to be in Europe.” 

Worthington said it was a worthwhile experience that will set him apart from others in the future. 

Experiential learning, such as studying abroad and completing internships, has a direct correlation with career preparedness, which Thompson said could be another reason for the increase in study abroad participation. 

“Study abroad has been identified … as one of the premier high-impact activities that students can do to get ready for their career,” Thompson said. “If you’ve had an international experience, that is a springboard to entry into your chosen profession.” 

When colleges see that employers want graduates to have international experience, they advocate for more study abroad opportunities, Thompson said. 

“If you’re a chair or a dean and you’re thinking, ‘How am I getting my graduates ready for a career,’ doing something international … is beneficial to the students in their majors,” Thompson said. 

UT President Gregory Fenves has also called for increased career preparedness, Thompson said. In 2017, he introduced the College to Career initiative to enhance students’ career preparedness with additional resources on campus. 

For Tandees Najimi, a neuroscience and chemistry senior, her semester of research in Zurich, Switzerland was worth the complications with her schedule. 

“You basically have to start squeezing (courses) into semesters that you’re not studying abroad, which makes your course load more burdensome,” Najimi said. “But if you know students who studied abroad, they’ll absolutely tell you to do it, so that’s why I decided I’ll just do it anyways.” 

 Najimi said while her academic advisers warned that experiences abroad might complicate her schedule, it is still a worthwhile experience. 

“They don’t emphasize it as much as I wish they did because it is an important experience to do regardless of what your major is,” Najimi said.