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Abroad 101 ranks UNI as number four study abroad program in nation

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2012

Updated: Thursday, January 26, 2012 16:01

Student

ERIC CLAUSEN/Northern Iowan

Jane Martin, junior anthroplogy and religion double major, waits in the University of Northern Iowa Study Abroad Center as she goes through the application process to study in Ireland. UNI’s center was recently ranked fourth in the nation by Abroad 101, the first and largest review of study abroad programs.

Abroad 101, the first and largest review of study abroad programs, recently ranked the Study Abroad Center at the University of Northern Iowa as fourth in the nation.

According to Yana Cornish, director of the Study Abroad Center, the program was a one-person office until about three years ago. Now, it has grown into a team that provides programs in more than 60 countries.  According to Cornish, 600 students participated in these programs last semester.

"I tried to provide solid services and support to UNI students by myself, assisted by student peer advisers," said Cornish, who has served as the director for nearly 10 years. "But then it became impossible, so slowly we were able to grow the office and form a team to reach more students and offer more quality programs."

Cornish said the selection by Abroad 101 was based on overall rankings by students who have participated in study abroad programs. Upon returning from their study abroad programs, students rate their experiences on program evaluation forms.

"(Students are) requested to answer and rate questions regarding various aspects of their program, such as academics and the quality and service of the program," Cornish said.

According to Cornish, who referenced the Georgia Learning Outcomes of Students Studying Abroad Research Initiative (GLOSSARI), students who complete a study abroad program "show improved academic performance."

"The Study Abroad Center, with its competent staff, prepares students for their study abroad experience at all stages of the process: from the preparation to the actual time in-country to their return," Cornish said.

She also said the center has peer advisers that have studied abroad who are able to describe the student side of the experience.  In addition, the center's staff helps students through obtaining a visa, health information, other documentations and many other matters.

"We keep in touch with students during their time abroad in case they have any questions, and when they return we ensure their credits transfer," Cornish said.

Cornish highlighted some differences between UNI's study abroad programs and other schools.

"UNI Study Abroad Center makes a big emphasis on academics offering quality programs," Cornish said.  "We guide students through the entire study abroad process.  We have quality personal support that we provide to our students.

"We literally give our students the world, by offering programs around the globe where they can take unique classes," she added.

Marine biology, surfing, Irish studies and fashion photography are just a few classes not available at UNI that students can explore abroad, Cornish said.

The Study Abroad Center also works closely with UNI professors and departments to offer "unique short-term experiences to our students abroad taught by UNI course leaders," said Cornish.

About 300 students took part in these programs last summer.

Students weigh in    

Chelsea Anderson, a senior elementary education and Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) dual major, traveled last summer to Veritas University in San Jose, Costa Rica.  

Anderson said the UNI study abroad program did a "great job of communicating back and forth prior, during and after studying abroad."

She said one of the best ways they communicated was through creating a Facebook page for current and past students.  The page gave traveling ideas and expectations for living conditions and classes.

"I found this very helpful, and it allowed me to feel more prepared for going abroad," Anderson said. "I felt supported and encouraged by the staff that is really passionate about getting students abroad whether it is a weeklong capstone (course) in the summer or for a full semester."

Leslie Preston, a senior Spanish teaching major, studied abroad in Spain and said she "had a great time."

"UNI was very helpful in placing me with a loving host family," Preston said. "The program I was on was very well-organized, and the study abroad office was very helpful."

Preston "appreciated the fact that the office offered scholarships to help students achieve that dream of traveling to and studying in different countries."

Anderson said there was another advantage to studying at Veritas — she paid UNI tuition. She received six credits in one month and was able to go on free excursions included in the UNI program, giving her the opportunity to "see the most of Costa Rica for the time being, while being cost-friendly."

Anderson encourages everyone to "at least consider the possibility of going abroad."

"Someone told me that in order to understand the cultural values of others, one must understand their own," Anderson said.  "I thought I was pretty confident in my self-awareness and how I felt towards others, but after going abroad I feel more aware of some of the stereotypes or presumptions I make towards cultures different than my own.

"It is important for everyone, wherever they are, to expand their knowledge and perspective of how they respond to differences, so they can better interact with a variety of people in a multicultural world," Anderson added.

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