Ohio Journalist

Cultural Currency

By Alexander Card

(December 1, 2015) — Ohio University’s education abroad programs are as varied as the nations that host them. A wealth of destinations and academic areas offer a chance for any enterprising student to experience the unknown alongside their fellow Bobcats and new friends alike.

Nobody advocates for foreign studies programs quite as much as Catherine Marshall, director of OU’s Office of Education Abroad.

“It’s really hard to say the most important thing,” Marshall admitted. “Study abroad can do a lot of things for a student. There’s lots of different ways to go abroad and still have an educative experience.”

For many students, the promise of earning credits toward graduation amid an unfamiliar and exciting backdrop is enough to justify the expense associated with education abroad. Others value the opportunity to learn from new perspectives.

Marshall offered another benefit for journalism students looking to boost their resume.

“From a job-seeker’s point of view, the majority of U.S. students do not study abroad,” Marshall said. “The study abroad experience can set a student apart. There are lots of students that have written for ‘fill in the blank.’ How many have actually gone abroad and written articles and blogged from an international perspective?”

At the university’s administrative level, education abroad helps build a network between schools and educators. Marshall pointed to Scripps’ Leipzig, Germany, program as an example.

“There’s a number of people on this campus who have had very, very strong ties to Leipzig [such as] Bob Stewart, former OU president Bob Glidden,” Marshall said. “They’re connected with their counterparts and their colleagues, but then students start to get into the mix. Our partners there [in Leipzig] are wonderful people, they’re great advocates for our students,” Marshall said.

Interactions between OU students and their peers in other countries create “new opportunities” and further expand the university’s network, Marshall said.

The E.W. Scripps School of Journalism’s Institute for International Journalism has operated a number of programs specifically targeting journalism students, with destinations including Zambia, Ghana, Germany and the London Olympic Games.

But journalism students aren’t restricted to study abroad programs within the school. In fact, Marshall said journalism students stand to gain plenty by attending cross-major programs.

“A lot of our programs, even when they’re major-specific, have space for students from other majors,” Marshall said. “There’s a lot of growing and learning that can happen with such a diverse body of students.”

“I think personal growth and the opportunity for personal growth is one of the biggest benefits of study abroad,” she said. “If you always stay in your comfort zone, there’s no room for growth.”

Marshall specifically mentioned a summer program in Ecuador, led by OU’s Tropical Disease Institute, as being of particular value to journalism majors. Someone attending that program with reporting experience — and knowledge of Spanish — could help convey information to the local community, as well as to audiences back home.

Another program that might benefit journalism students focuses on sustainability and peace building in the Balkans. Attendees will study at an international peace park spanning Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro.

Marshall understands that some students shy away from study abroad, whether due to cost or the fear of living in a foreign place.

“Sometimes going someplace different can be scary,” she said. “Often when new students come on campus, you know they’re thinking about being here. And that makes sense, I get that. It pushes their boundaries and lets them know what they’re capable of.”

But the reward of education abroad, Marshall said, far exceeds any perceived risk. And her opinion comes from experience, not an attempt to bolster the Office of Education Abroad’s public relations. Marshall has tagged along on study abroad trips to Leipzig, Japan and the Caribbean, not counting her own ventures to Germany and Venice in college.

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