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Going Abroad, Is It Right for You?

April 3, 2019

By Sydney Glass

While study abroad is highly encouraged in undergrad, it is not always given the same attention in graduate school. Because grad students are so busy with their academics, work, and personal lives, we often assume that study abroad or other forms of international education will not fit into our schedules. During my undergraduate education, I was fortunate to have the opportunity not only to spend a semester in Spain, but also to work with the study abroad office at my university. These experiences sparked my interest in and highlighted the importance of international education. In this post, I will share with you some general ways that you can make time for international opportunities while completing your degree program at Mason.

One of the easiest ways for grad students to incorporate study abroad into their graduate school experience is to make sure it aligns with your academic program. It is no surprise that the standard graduate course load leaves little room for extracurricular activities, which means that grad students will have to plan far in advance if they really want  to study outside of their home institution. The good news is that finding a program with a similar foundation and competencies to your current academic program will garner support from your faculty and advisor(s). Having their support is important because they often determine whether or not your program is approved. Additionally, your advisor can help tailor your coursework and put you in contact with the correct offices so that you get the most out of your experience and finish your degree on time.

In addition, there are a number of research-based programs abroad, and they are always looking for talented grad students. The best place to start is to check with your department as they usually have a list of acceptable programs, can provide you with strong recommendations, and may have connections at international institutions.  Your department may also offer faculty-led research trips where you can gain practical skills that you can apply in the field. This is great for students that want to study abroad but may not want the long-term commitment of being away for a semester or year, as these trips are usually shorter-term, often taking place over a week or during the summer.[i] For many of us, research is an integral part of our graduate education whether we are working as graduate research assistants or writing our thesis or dissertation, so why not spend that time in another country, experiencing a new culture, and earning credit toward your degree.

Mason Resources:

Global Education Office (GEO)

The GEO offers a number of programs for both graduate and professional students that can accommodate you at any stage of your graduate degree. There are shorter winter and summer terms, as well as semester and year-long programs. You can even request to complete your internship or practicum abroad as long as the program meets the requirements of your department. Visit them in the Johnson Center, Room 235 or email them at goabroad@gmu.edu to learn more!

Social Action and Integrative Learning (SAIL)

Each year, the SAIL Office offers Alternative Break (AB) programs where students spend their spring break completing service-learning activities. The purpose of this program is to get students to engage in direct service and encourage them to continue these actions in their own communities. If you are interested in taking your learning outside the classroom and tackling social issues, this is a great program for you. I recently spent my spring break in Guatemala where we partnered with the Kamalbe Spanish School and Volunteer Center, focusing on social injustices of the indigenous population. Through this experience, I was able to actually apply skills from my field of study and gain knowledge that I could incorporate into my program. For more information, visit the SAIL Office in Enterprise Hall, Room 442 or email them at sail@gmu.edu.

I hope that you all will consider the study abroad opportunities at Mason as it is a chance to broaden your perspective and your professional network, allowing you to meet people from all over the world and across disciplines. Also, if you ever want to know more about my experiences or international education in general, I am always down to meet for coffee!



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[i] “Purdue Study Abroad,” Purdue University, accessed April 1, 2019, https://www.purdue.edu/IPPU/SA/Outbound/graduate.html.