During the 2018-2019 academic year, 722 Grand Valley State University students studied abroad in the 4,000-plus programs available. This number ranks GVSU as sixth in the nation for study abroad participation in the master’s colleges and universities category, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE).
The ranking is a credit to GVSU students and their interest in learning about and exploring new cultures, said Study Abroad Outreach Coordinator Alissa Lane.
“While being ranked is a really cool thing, I think the way cooler thing is all the stories and experiences
that our students have been able to have all over the world,” Lane said. “Being ranked sixth is a celebration of that.”
The Padnos International Center and GVSU are committed to creating valuable, global experiences for students. Part of what makes this possible is the variety of programs available, including shorter faculty-led programs, summer semesters and year-long exchange programs, Lane said.
“The best thing about our study abroad program, in general, is that students have so much variety,” said Lane.
There are also study abroad peer advisors, who are international students and students who have already studied abroad. Peer advisors can offer advice about their international experience, help find scholarships and explore different programs, Lane said.
“They are the absolute best advocates for study abroad, and it allows students to hear from a fellow student that has had the experience which makes it really personal, and those peer advisors are like really dedicated to helping other students have that opportunity,” said Lane.
GVSU student Audrey Haines studied abroad in Spain during the winter 2020 semester. As a nursing and Spanish double major, Haines plans to pursue a career as a medical interpreter, which made being immersed in a Spanish-speaking country the perfect fit.
“I’ve always known that the best way to develop your Spanish speaking skills is to just completely put yourself into that culture, giving yourself no other choice but to take it on,” Haines said. “It opens up a whole different world, you get to see different ways of life and make friends from all over the world.”
Although her semester abroad was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, Haines said that her experience was life-changing and she hopes that other GVSU students will take advantage of the opportunity in the future.
“People always make fun of kids studying abroad but like ‘all they ever talk about is studying abroad,’ Haines said. “It’s because it’s such a great experience, it really does just change your life.”
While COVID-19 safety and travel restrictions have drastically changed the study abroad program for 2020-2021 year, Lane said that the Padnos International Center has continued to find ways to connect students across the globe.
Lane said that the Jan. 22 study abroad fair was held on Zoom, and included students from GVSU’s partner universities in other countries. Also new this year was the language exchange partner program, which paired GVSU students with partner university students who could meet to chat and learn from each other.
“It shows that even though we’re all disconnected from each other in some ways, Grand Valley students still have that desire to learn about people and other places around the world,” said Lane.