She said within the past year, there has been 12 percent growth in UNC faculty-led study abroad programs over the summer. And while this has increased participation, financial aid packages do not extend into the summer as easily as academic semesters.
Stephenson said optimizing exchange agreements, matching students to available funds and encouraging donors are some of the ways that UNC Global is working toward fulfilling the guarantee and increasing study abroad opportunities.
“We are constantly looking for ways to make study abroad affordable and accessible to all UNC students,” Heather Ward, associate dean of study abroad and international exchange, said in an email. “We do that through study abroad scholarships and by keeping program costs low.”
Livia Benitez Fabe, a transfer student and Carolina Covenant scholar, is currently studying abroad in Florence, Italy. She said UNC’s study abroad opportunities are part of what brought her to the University.
“When you actually live in a city, staying away from all the tourism, your life changes; the way you see everything changes completely,” Benitez Fabe said.
She said the study abroad office was extremely helpful during the application process, noting that her adviser personally checked in to make sure her application was complete.
“It is an experience everyone should have at least once in your lifetime – to change everything you thought you knew, gain new perspectives and expand your scope of knowledge,” Benitez Fabe said.
She said traveling in Italy was like waking up in fantasyland.
“When I come back to the United States, I’m not going to be the same person — that's the whole goal of this,” Benitez Fabe said. “And that’s what we’re here for: to discover ourselves, to go out there and explore.”
Stephenson and Ward both said study abroad is often one of the most valuable experiences for students during their college years.
“Alumni very frequently cite study abroad as one of the best and more transformative things that they did while they were a student at Carolina,” Stephenson said. “And those who did not study abroad very frequently cite it as their biggest regret, with the main barrier being money.”
But the Global Guarantee will hopefully remove this barrier for many students, Stephenson said.
“It’s never too early to start thinking about study abroad and how you will fund this experience, and don’t let financial need stand in your way,” Ward said. “We encourage students to come to a Funding 101 session, or to stop by our Study Abroad Financial Aid Drop-In hours to speak with an adviser about their goals and budget for study abroad."
Stephenson, a former U.S. ambassador to Panama, said study abroad can completely change a student.
“I believe that studying abroad expands your horizons, changes your life and lets you see the world in a bigger way,” Stephenson said. “Students who study abroad have more self-awareness, higher self-confidence, higher GPA and even better graduation rates. They also develop important networks on their study abroad program that see them through for a long time.”