Experiences abroad shape students’ futures

Northern Kentucky University boasts 627 international students enrolled for the spring 2012 semester, and more than 300 NKU students go on a study abroad program each year to experience other cultures.

Francois LeRoy, executive director of the NKU International Education Center, said, “Here at NKU, the numbers of students who go on study abroad programs have been increasing a little bit each year. Also, the international student population is going to grow some more.”

Students from the U.S. and international students have different reasons for wanting to study in another country.

Shingo Fujimura, a senior accounting major from Japan, transferred to NKU two years ago. Even though he was a mechanical engineering major in Japan, he decided to transition to accounting.
“I was looking for the way to develop my career based on my experiences,” Fujimura said. “I want to make my own specialized career, because the job market is always changing.”

He said getting a job is easier in Japan if you can speak English well. Furthermore, there are many American companies in Japan.

Also, Fujimura said, a lot of Japanese build their careers in Japan, even if the job field is better with companies that operate between America and Japan. He thought if he improved his English skills and received an accounting degree in the U.S., it would be useful for finding a job in the U.S.

Mazen Al-Harbi, a sophomore accounting major from Saudi Arabia, has the same motivation for coming to the U.S.

“I want to study in the U.S. for my job in the future. I think America has good education programs for financing, mechanics and accounting,” he said. “Also, English skill is very important for getting a job in Saudi Arabia.”

There are many global companies like General Motors and Samsung in Saudi Arabia. Al-Harbi said English is commonly spoken in the workplace, and that these companies prefer the candidates who have good English skills and international experience.

NKU’s American students who experience study abroad can have similar motivations based on their curiosity about another culture.

Sara Haas, a senior political science major, went to Europe over spring break to study abroad as part of her human rights class. Haas toured Germany, France and the Netherlands. She also visited the European Union, the Court of Human Rights and the site of a concentration camp to learn more about human rights.

Haas said that academic interest was her reason for wanting to study abroad. This was not her first study abroad experience.

“I’m interested in the Middle East,” she said. “So I went to Egypt on winter break 2010. It also related with my Egyptian history class. It was awesome.”
LeRoy said the purpose of the study abroad program is to train and prepare students for the future because we live in a global environment.

NKU’s study abroad programs are credit-based, whether the student goes on a long-term or short-term program. Any student can apply for a scholarship for any of the programs.
LeRoy emphasizes that study abroad should be part of every student’s education.

“They can learn a lot of the complexities of the world on our campus, but it’s not enough,” he said. “It also is an investment in the future. Even if it’s a short term, students can experience for themselves.”

LeRoy said that students who study abroad come face-to-face with their preconceptions and prejudices about other places and people.
“Even if they have only one experience, if their conceptions and prejudices are challenged just once they start to think, ‘I was wrong about this place, so I might be wrong about these other places,’” he said.