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Junior Year Abroad — Now?

If you've been waiting your whole life to study overseas, the wait may be over

If you’ve returned to college at mid-life, or plan to, consider doing some of your studying in another country. There are scholarships available to underwrite your travels — whether for undergraduate or graduate studies — for a week, a summer, a semester or even a full academic year.

Filmmaking student Judy Davis, who’s in her 60s, sought foreign study funding at the insistence of one of her professors at Butte College in Chico, Calif. She applied for two scholarships — and won both. Money from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program and the state of California helped her finance seven weeks of classes in Costa Rica, which were bookended by travel throughout that country. The experience gave her a whole new outlook on education and foreign travel.

“I’ve found no other experience that gives a person such rich and in-depth perspective on another culture,” David says.  “When you combine a regimented Monday through Friday scholastic schedule while living with a host family with structured class travel and the personal exploration of the country, you get the greatest exposure to another culture. I’ve not met a single person in a foreign exchange program who has not been deeply affected by their study abroad.”

Classes That Appeal to Seniors

Some students who return to college at midlife may be more comfortable enrolling in programs specifically designed for adult students. David Shallenberger, Ph.D., worked in a variety of positions over 12 years at DePaul University’s School for New Learning in Chicago, which integrates 10-day to three-week study-abroad components into quarter-long courses. The time frame is designed to accommodate older students’ work and family obligations.

“In the beginning, I was a little worried that the older students wouldn’t be as open-minded because they’d be more set in their ways," says Shallenberger. "But that wasn’t the case. Some individuals may be a bit more jaded, but I’ve seen others have these profound, life-changing experiences. It is very possible for older students to have incredible insights that change how they see the world.”

But not all older students want separation from college-age classmates. “I love the energy of the younger
students,” says Eva Korolishin, a student at Arcadia University in Philadelphia who’s in her 40’s and getting her master’s in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. “Maybe it’s because my son is the same age that I understand how they live and how they change.”

So far, Korolishin has completed undergrad and graduate study abroad expeditions to Costa Rica, Dominica, Ireland and Cyprus. “The younger students’ frame of mind is absolutely different from mine,” she says. “But it’s not a conflict — it’s just different. And I love learning from that perspective. It helps to open my mind.”

Davis also enjoyed her interaction with her classmates. “I get along with much younger people than myself. I think it’s because I’m quite physically active,” she says. She formed a close bond with two 20-something men in her class, and the three took weekend day trips and did volunteer work together at an orphanage.

Funding Your Overseas Studies

If you’re interested in exploring study abroad and scholarship options, there are several online resources that offer starting points. The International Institute of Education, a nonprofit organization that administers the Fulbright Program and Gilman Scholarships for the U.S. Department of State, maintains foreign study and funding databases. To help you zero in on the opportunities that are right for you, search criteria include country, area of study, academic level and career stage. 

“Most colleges allow students to use their financial aid for approved programs, and federal grants and scholarships can often be applied to a study-abroad program,” says Chris Russell, associate director of marketing and recruiting for Boston University’s overseas-study program. “In addition, program providers usually offer merit- and need-based scholarships.” 

While there will be opportunities to explore the country you’re visiting, know this: You’ll be spending much of your time in classrooms or labs, not just roaming the countryside and touring vineyards. “It is an academic endeavor,” Russell says.

For those who are serious about their studies, the combination of classroom, lecture hall and field-work time in a foreign location adds a special fullness and richness to the experience that can’t be found in the classroom alone. “I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Korolishin says.

“You’re never too old,” says Davis, who likes to quote Beatrice Wood, who was born in 1893, lived 105 years, and was world-renowned for her ceramic arts. “She said, ‘My glazes didn’t get good until my 90s.’”

“I don’t think it’s about not being able to do it because you’re older,” says Davis. “The older I get, the juicier life gets.”

For More Info:

The Institute for International Education provides many online resources to help you research, select, and plan your study abroad experience.

You can find additional country information, including passport and visa information as well as international travel safety warnings and alerts, at the Department of State’s travel website.

New York City–based Randy B. Hecht writes about international culture and economic development.

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