International Relations and Global Studies majors face pressure to study abroad

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Photo Credit: Alekka Hernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Despite budgeting and planning ahead, some students step onto the Forty Acres to find out they may need to invest thousands more into their degree than most other majors.

While studying abroad offers many options to supplement students’ experiences, it is a requirement for International Relations and Global Studies (IRG) majors. Last year, 251 of the 4,421 total students that studied abroad were IRG majors, making IRG the largest group to go abroad, according to the 2017-2018 Impact Report.

Because the study abroad office operates independently of the IRG department, IRG majors are evaluated equally to other students when applying, program coordinator and IRG liaison Julia Smith said. This puts added pressure on IRG majors to gain acceptance into their desired program.

“Our denial rate is actually quite low because if you aren’t able to get into your first program, we’ll work to get you into your second choice program,” Smith said.

If a student is denied from both choices, the office will work to find a better fit for the student along with an adviser, Smith said. Almost every program requires a $75 application fee.

“If we have program that we have a lot of student interest in, we will try to increase our availability to send students there,” Smith said. “There are some programs where that’s just not possible, so we try to let our students know that.”

IRG sophomore Nithure Rema said she didn’t know she was required to study abroad until after she accepted admission. Rema said she feels limited in the programs available to her because her foreign language sequence is Bengali and her area of study is Asian. Her language courses have to be taken consecutively, so she cannot participate in a semester-long program.

“It would be better if there were more programs geared toward IRG,” Rema said. “Sometimes I’m like, ‘Maybe I should’ve been a business major. Then I wouldn’t have to study abroad.”

Rema said she had trouble finding a program because many of the Asian summer programs are geared toward STEM and business majors.

IRG junior Katherine Velez said she also wasn’t aware of the study abroad requirement when she transferred from UT-Arlington.

“It is hard to have a requirement for you to graduate with (an IRG) degree,” Velez said. “(The study abroad requirement) makes it have more pressure because you only have four years and you don’t think about it your freshman year.”

As a first-generation low-income student, Velez had to save up for a long time before she was accepted to study abroad in France for fall 2018.

“I wouldn’t have gone if it weren’t for working a full-time job over the summer,” Velez said. “I sold my car to go.”

Velez said she knew other students who applied to the same program and scholarship as her and did not get acceptance for either.

The study abroad office doesn’t prioritize IRG students because they have been able to meet their degree requirement despite competition, Smith said.

“We look at where students (are) going and what they are studying to make decisions about what we are going to do in the future,” Smith said. “So in that sense we are a very day-to-day driven office.”