The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday February 1st

Q&A with Study Abroad Adviser Anna Wilson

UNC students who studied in London in the spring 2017 semester pose for a photo. Courtesy of UNC Faculty.
Buy Photos UNC students who studied in London in the spring 2017 semester pose for a photo. Courtesy of UNC Faculty.

With the recent opening of study abroad applications, Tar Heels are preparing to pack their suitcases and expand their world views. But what exactly should they know before saying “ciao” to Chapel Hill? Anna Wilson, a UNC graduate who works as a study abroad adviser, offered her expertise on study abroad to The Daily Tar Heel. 

The Daily Tar Heel: Why do you believe that students should study abroad?

Anna Wilson: I think that (with) pretty much everyone in the study abroad office, we all work in this field because we’re very passionate about international education. We know how formative study abroad can be in the life of students in the college years. It’s not only crucial for students academically, but also it enables students to gain a larger sense of the world. It enables them to gain really crucial skills such as cultural competence, independence, language skills — any range of skills that are going to help them not only personally but professionally throughout their careers. And it’s just an opportunity to interact with different cultures and different people in a way that really opens their eyes to the rest of the world and that will shape them for the rest of their lives. 

DTH: What should students look for in a program?

AW: There are a few different factors that students should take into consideration when considering a study abroad program. So one, obviously, would be the academics. So based on their major and the type of credit that they are looking to get abroad, they can look at different programs that meet those needs. 

We have a range of different types of programs. Some programs are going to have, like, a determined set list of courses, they are going to be taught by UNC professors, for instance, for UNC graded credit. We have other programs that are going to get students transfer credits that can still count toward their degree requirements but that are going to be — I guess — a little bit differently structured academically. 

Another thing that students can take into consideration is the length of the program, so whether or not they want to go abroad for a summer, a semester or an academic year. They can also mix and match and do a summer followed by a semester. Another thing that we tell students to look at is the type of immersion they're looking for, and do — I guess — the type of environment that they’re looking for. So, you know, some programs students would be mostly with other UNC or American students, which is obviously going to be a very different environment from an exchange program where a student might be the only UNC student on the program which would be taking all of their courses in a host university with local students and sometimes in a local language. So those are just a few factors.   

DTH: Are there programs to study abroad in countries where students do not speak the language spoken in that particular country?

AW: Yes, so we have a number of programs, for instance in parts of continental Europe and Scandinavia where the local language spoken is not English where students have the opportunity to take courses taught in English.

DTH: For instance, if someone was studying French and wanted to visit Spain, are there programs to speak French in Spain?

AW: So, we do have some programs. Just as an example, I actually advise for programs in France. We do have some programs where students can take other languages at a French university. I have students pretty much every year who decide to take Arabic at a French university, so that's definitely possible. It just kind of depends on the university and the courses and the languages they offer. 

DTH: Are students able to graduate on time with a full year abroad?

AW: Yes, definitely. So that's kind of one of the myths regarding study abroad is that you can't go abroad and graduate on time, but it's definitely even possible if a student goes abroad for a year. It's just a question of meeting with the student’s academic adviser and planning courses fairly methodically to make sure that the student will know how the courses will count toward their degree requirements for Carolina. If a student does a mixture of courses that could count for Gen-Ed credits, that could count for major/minor credits and then just general elective credits courses, they could definitely make it work for a year. 

DTH: What are the biggest surprises for students when they study abroad? 

AW:  I think probably one would be that students tend to think that making friends abroad is going to be quite easy like how it is at Carolina ... I kind of make the analogy that it’s like international students that come to Carolina. It's not very often that we students here might necessarily interact with international students or actively seek to make friends with them. I just tell students when they go abroad to just really be proactive in terms of reaching out to people to make those connections so that they can really connect with locals and become friends with them. Because it's not going to happen automatically, it's going to take some time on their behalf.

DTH: What are the greatest challenges during a study abroad program that students encounter? 

AW: I mean, I think that culture shock is a very real thing. It may not necessarily hit immediately - students often ride a high of being in a new place when they first arrive in a new country. However, I mean even when you're traveling to a Western country in Europe, for instance, there are pretty significant cultural differences that students often kind of run up against, maybe midway through their term, and that's something that's frequently quite challenging for them and I think most of them get through it, and when they come back they rave about how much they loved their host country. But that is frequently a challenge as well for those who are going to a country where they don’t speak the language natively.

DTH: What are your pro-tips for students interested in studying abroad? 

AW: Our office has a lot of different resources that we put at the disposition of students to enable them to learn about different programs and eventually settle on a program. We not only have study abroad fairs twice a year held in January and September, but we also have a number of different 101 information sessions throughout the year that are really going to provide for the baseline information about study abroad: different programs, funding opportunities, etc. But that's a really great place to start. 

We also have six different advisers within our office that are divided up regionally so students can meet with one of us or all of us and talk about different programs in different regions. I would say one really great pro-tip however is that we have a cohort of study abroad peer ambassadors. So these are actually students who have gone abroad previously through UNC study abroad and have come back and signed up to be study abroad ambassadors for their program or for study abroad more generally. We have a list of those on our website so students can search for different ambassadors by region or by country or even by program, and they're a really great resource to utilize when considering a different program of just wanting to get input from someone who’s been there really recently.

DTH: Are study abroad workshops required?

AW: They’re not required anymore, they're just strongly encouraged. They clear out all the sort of general information about study abroad and really kind of help students narrow down to a program.

DTH: Did you study abroad in college? Where did you travel?

AW: Yes, I went to UNC as an undergrad and I spent a year in Montpellier, France. 

DTH: What was your favorite experience or memory of your year abroad? 

AW: Study abroad was ... an extremely formative experience for me personally. I think my favorite part of my study abroad program was my host family. They were an elderly couple, and I was kind of hoping for a family with kids, but I ended up getting along so well with them to the point that I studied abroad 11 years ago, and I'm still in touch with them. They're kind of my grandparents.

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