More than 75 study abroad programs in 30 countries were represented at the University of Richmond's Study Abroad Fair in the Alice Haynes Room last Thursday.
Although the fair is only a glimpse of what an international education can offer, it helps students who are considering studying abroad narrow their choices and gather insights from alumni and exchange students.
Prospective study-abroad students migrated from one display to the next, weighing their options of study abroad institutions and programs that might be best-suited to their academic needs and travel interests. Volunteers sat at their assigned tables with other students or representatives from the abroad universities and answered questions with a brochure and a smile.
"People come to the fair with preconceived ideas of where they want to go," senior David Mowry said. "It's good to provide more options than just the popular ones."
Mowry was a volunteer representative for Bilkent University in Turkey.
"I hope that these students will choose to go abroad," peer advisor Sarah Gilbert said. "I don't think that people like to research potential destinations on the Web site, so this is helpful."
Gilbert is one of the 2009-2010 Study Abroad Peer Advisors at the Office of International Education. She offers appointments for students who have additional questions or concerns.
"We are promoting the value of study abroad as a cultural experience, a resume booster, a way to take unique coursework or strengthen a foreign language," Amy Bergmann, an OIE Study Abroad Advisor, said in an e-mail to volunteers. "This is not the time to elaborate that the drinking age is only 18 or other such details."
Students asked questions about the academic environment, the travel opportunities, the housing situation, the language barrier and the course selection process. More than 200 students and 67 volunteers attended the fair, compared with last year's 250 attendees.
Director of Study Abroad Michele Cox, who was at the fair, said that Richmond's international education had expanded during her time here. In April 1991, Cox started working for the university and sent 41 students abroad in fall 1991 - compared with this fall's 315 - and 51 students during the spring 1992 semester. Students had a limited selection of programs to choose from when she first arrived.
Richmond's first exchange partner was the University of Muenster in Germany in 1989. The University of Bath, England, was Richmond's second partner in 1992, followed in 1993 by Queen Mary University, University of London, the University of Lancaster and the University of East Anglia, all in England.
Richmond now sends more than 500 students abroad per year and welcomes about 200 international students to its campus from more than 70 countries. There are more than 55 exchange agreements with various exchange programs, as well as more than 20 affiliate programs.
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The program list continued to expand this fall, with three new programs added last Friday. The new programs include the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in Madrid, Spain; the Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio de Janeiro in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and the University of Botswana in Gaborone, Botswana.
Several exchange students also participated in the fair as volunteers, too. They represented their exchange programs and countries, and sat beside Richmond students and faculty to provide handouts and information to the fair's visitors.
"We think it's right to provide help to people who are deciding where to study, just as we received help when we were deciding," said Tommaso Tamburnotti, an exchange student from the Universita Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Italy. "It is only fair."
In 2007, Newsweek magazine included the University of Richmond in its list of top 25 hottest schools. Richmond was named the Hottest for International Studies, most notably because of its 70 percent study-abroad rate among undergraduates.
Shortly thereafter, the Richmond administration announced the construction of a building dedicated to international education. The Carole Weinstein International Center was designed to be a vibrant center for all things international, according to the Office of International Education's Web site.
Consequently, it will include a cafe, meeting spaces and programming venues. It will house a Spatial Analysis Laboratory and a Global Studio, and will be equipped with seven technologically sophisticated classrooms. The classrooms will incorporate video-chatting and other methods of communication to students and professors around the world.
"It's going to take us in a new direction," Cox said. "The building is wired to be highly technical."
It is scheduled for completion by fall 2010. In the meantime, exchange students who are studying at Richmond shared their thoughts about their time studying abroad at the fair.
"Compared to Queen Mary University, Richmond is a lot smaller," full-year exchange student Cerys Wood said. "At first, I thought that it would be a negative thing, but it's actually nice to see familiar faces around."
Exchange student Liv Bjerre, a Copenhagen Business School volunteer at the fair, agreed: "Richmond is very social compared to other places that I've heard about. If you go to a large, open campus, it is quite hard to fit in, but people are quite open and interested that you are from another country here at Richmond. They aren't scared."
During the fair, Bjerre presented a virtual tour of the Copenhagen Business School facility.
"I chose Richmond because I thought it would contrast the most with London," Wood said, "and so far it's turned out to be that way. The student body in London is much more diverse. The white, rich students are the minority at Queen Mary University. We had more independent studies, whereas there are more frequent assessments here, like pop quizzes - oh, I hate it! It's confusing and traumatic."
Dan Jensen, a student from Copenhagen Business School and a volunteer at the fair, said: "The world is more complex and enriching than Family Guy or the Simpsons, so taking the opportunity to study abroad can help you break those stereotypes."
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Hardy at email@example.com
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