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Study Abroad: Immersion vs. Diversification

Diversifying our experience on Semester at Sea.
Diversifying our experience on Semester at Sea.
SAS Summer 2004 community photos

There are multiple schools of thought when it comes to studying abroad.  Of course, everyone thinks its a marvelous idea.  It's a peerless way of absorbing other cultures, learning other languages, gaining wider experiences, and it looks sparkly and appealing on a resume.  But given the vast diversity of world cultures and the narrow window of time in which one can study abroad, every hopeful student is faced with some tough decisions.

Abroad programs divide into two categories:

Immersion programs are the picture-frame set-up that most people think of when you say "study abroad".  You will pack a bag and fly away to Paris or London or Timbuktu, unpack in your new flat or host household, and spend the rest of your semester/year learning your way around town, sampling local cuisines, and making lifelong across-the-ocean friends.  These programs provide a spectacular opportunity to burrow into a different culture and make it a part of yourself.  You will be more than just a tourist in this new home; you may actually fit in well enough to laugh at the tourists with the other locals.  If you're hoping to become fluent in a language, or you are easily stressed out by frequent relocation, you probably want immersion.  Any college with a study-abroad department will provide you with long lists of these programs.

Then again, maybe you're the restless type.  For you, there are Diversification or Multi-Country programs.   Some universities scoff at multi-country programs, but they are becoming increasingly popular.  These are programs such as Semester at Sea (for more info, look here)or Global Learning Semesters, in which you pack your back and it stays packed as you move from place to place, taking classes on the road... or the East Australian Current, whichever strikes your fancy.  The advantages here are obvious; you will receive a constant influx of new experiences and information, and be able to see and learn about many different countries and cultures.  The disadvantage is that you will not make any of these places your home, and you feel like a tourist for several months.

Whichever program you choose, make the most of it.  Sip coffee and people-watch at those cafes in Paris, yell yourself hoarse at a rugby match in New Zealand, walk the Great Wall in China; remember that you're not just there to go to school.  Studying abroad is one of the cushiest ways to travel, and you should seize the opportunity while you still can.  For most schools including OSU, the application deadlines for summer and fall programs is coming up fast!  Get down to the Office of International Affairs and check out your options!