Studying abroad is a classic part of the Pepperdine experience, and about 80% of students participate in at least one study-abroad offering before graduation.
The University markets International Programs to prospective students as a uniquely Pepperdine opportunity, but how many students actually go abroad? Who are they, why do they go, where do they stay and, most important, what does it mean to go abroad at Pepperdine?
“We live in an increasingly globalized world,” said Beth Laux, executive director of International Programs. “Part of our role as educators is to help prepare students for that world, and study abroad is a key dimension in doing that.”
Between fall 2018 and summer 2019, 1,047 Pepperdine students studied abroad — a roughly 7% increase in participants from the previous year.
“We have such amazing students, and they’re so committed to international education,” Laux said. “It’s wonderful to get to work with students who are so passionate about these experiences.”
Laux said Pepperdine offers students the chance to develop themselves across multiple disciplines by going abroad, providing them with plentiful opportunities for growth.
“It’s not just about the academic experience or professional development,” Laux said. “We look at the whole range of experiences—personal, professional, academic, spiritual, cultural—and we weave them into one holistic experience.”
The holistic nature of Pepperdine’s abroad programs sets them apart from other institutions’ programs, Laux said.
“There’s a unique stamp on these experiences that you won’t find at every school,” Laux said.
While study abroad programs are not solely academic experiences, the ability for students to participate in them often depends on their major or academic needs — something Pepperdine tries to accommodate, Laux said.
“Pepperdine has developed programs that are strategically designed to help students progress toward graduation, which means these are more accessible programs than they are at most institutions,” Laux said.
Laux said one of the most challenging aspects of executing Pepperdine’s abroad programs is the global scope.
“Pepperdine’s model is very, very unique,” Laux said. “To have seven [abroad] campuses is really an outstanding achievement for any institution.”
The support the International Programs department receives from Pepperdine administration and faculty helps the programs thrive, Laux said.
“We have support all the way from the president on down for what we do, and that is truly a blessing for the students and for our programs,” Laux said.
About 11% of all study-abroad participants from fall 2016 to summer 2019 completed an International Program in Switzerland, making it the second-most popular country for students going abroad. Roughly 20% of students traveled to the United Kingdom to participate in a program in London or Edinburgh during that time, making it the most popular abroad destination.
Junior Alicia Yu spent her sophomore year in Lausanne, Switzerland, and said it was an experience that changed her life.
“Looking back from this perspective after I’ve gone abroad, it baffles me that this is not something most people get to do,” Yu said.
Sophomore Katy Kulseth said she chose to apply for the Lausanne program after meeting several people who had gone in years past.
“The people who go to Lausanne are really passionate about it,” Kulseth said.
Yu said her time in Switzerland and the educational field trips her cohort took to Tanzania and Morocco broadened her worldview and felt almost like an alternate reality compared to normal, daily life in the United States.
About 30% of students who participated in an International Program sometime between fall 2016 through summer 2019 majored in Business, Marketing or comparable subjects, making it the most common category of majors for students going abroad.
Yu said being a Business Administration major made the application process for going abroad much less stressful than it is for many majors, since business can be studied and applied anywhere.
“Business is one of those majors where you can go to any location,” Yu said. “You get a different kind of global experience everywhere.”
Many students go abroad during the academic year, as almost 44% of study abroad participants between fall 2018 and summer 2019 spent at least a full semester abroad. About 38% of students who went abroad during that time, however, participated in a summer program.
Senior Biology and Hispanic Studies double major Karly Kern completed the Spanish-intensive Madrid summer program immediately after her sophomore year and said she chose not to do a traditional academic year program due to her graduation requirements.
“Because I’m a double major, especially one in the sciences, it wasn’t really realistic,” Kern said. “It’s always possible, but for me, it wasn’t necessarily worth it to try to work my schedule out to be able to go during the academic year.”
Kern said she believes prospective abroad students should consider veering from the more traditional academic year programs and give a fair chance to those that happen in the summer.
“The full year — or even just an academic semester — is not for everybody, and the summer programs are a lot cooler than people give them credit for,” Kern said. “If you’re looking for a specialized experience, that’s what summer programs are all about.”
Kulseth planned to spend this year in Lausanne, but her experience will be shorter due to the program’s suspension this fall. She said waiting to hear a decision from the IP office this summer was emotional and draining, particularly given the value that Pepperdine places on completing an abroad program.
“I was stressed out about the future and then stressed out about where I was going to live this semester and if I was going to be in Europe or California or at home, and now I’m on the East Coast,” Kulseth said. “The unknown of it all for most people is really stressful.”
Kern said she feels sorry for the students who planned to go abroad and had their programs canceled, specifically since her time abroad taught her so much about herself and the world around her.
“It’s a valuable experience to realize that the bubble you live in is just the bubble you live in,” Kern said. “There’s a whole other world out there that has history and has culture, both good and bad, and there are other people and other customs — and you should learn about those and learn how to respect those.”
As the Office of International Programs continues to adapt and do its best to continue planning for the execution of future abroad programs, Laux said she wants students who go abroad to bring home with them a lifelong love for travel and international service.
“It’s my hope that students truly see these programs as the starting point and not the finish line,” Laux said. “There’s a world of opportunities out there, from Fulbright to work experiences you could have abroad, mission experiences and volunteer opportunities. My hope is that our International Programs really inspire students to continue pursuing those opportunities throughout their lives.”
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