Cross-Departmental Collaboration Provides Greater Access to Study Abroad

students in San Jose Costa Rica

Study abroad provides students with the opportunity to take part in unique courses, research and internship experiences; aids in the development of intercultural communication competencies and foreign language fluency; encourages perspective taking, engaging with difference, and leading across cultures; and supports students in acquiring the soft skills needed to thrive in today’s workforce.  With the many benefits of international education, ensuring equitable access to study abroad across the KU community is important.   

Over the past several years, Study Abroad & Global Engagement (SAGE) has developed a series of major and identity-specific print and online resources to aid students in exploring opportunities for internationalizing their KU degree and selecting programs that meet their individual needs and aspirations.  More recently, the department has focused on broadening our advocacy networks on the KU campus and supporting more in-person engagement opportunities for diverse students.  As part of this initiative, SAGE has partnered with TRIO SES & STEM (TRIO) to provide targeted advising and programming to better meet the needs of students in underrepresented communities. In order to be eligible to be a part of the TRIO program, an individual must be a first-generation college student, meet federal guidelines for low-income status, or have a documented disability. 

Dr. Julie Hamel is a TRIO SES Student Success Specialist at KU who leads a spring study abroad program in Costa Rica specifically for TRIO students with limited international travel experience. In addition, Hamel regularly advises students with whom she works on study abroad opportunities.

“Our students often tell us that they had never considered that studying abroad would be accessible to them. I try to bring up study abroad opportunities with every student I meet, and I try to assess what they might perceive as barriers to participation, such as cost, not knowing how to find a program, not having a passport, and anxiety about international travel,” said Hamel. “I feel it is important to address their perceptions about studying abroad first, and then we move into exploring actual programs, looking at budgets, and discussing how this could actually become a reality for them.”

Both SAGE and TRIO are dedicated to providing students with the information they need to feel comfortable and safe in their decision to study abroad.  One initiative the departments have jointly pursued is increasing opportunities for TRIO students to connect with their peers who are alumni of KU study abroad programs.  Beginning in fall 2019, SAGE and TRIO have supported a joint student advising position to increase engagement with the TRIO community.  Aurora Sanchez has held this position since August 2019.  Sanchez graduated with her bachelor’s degree in May 2020 and is currently pursuing her master’s in accounting at KU. Sanchez says the most fulfilling aspect of her role as a peer advisor is finding new ways to connect with students and showing them how study abroad can be feasible regardless of their background or financial status.

“Coming to KU as a first-generation Hispanic student was already extremely out of my comfort zone. Neither of my parents had ever heard of study abroad and I hadn’t given college much thought prior to becoming a Jayhawk,” said Sanchez. “I didn’t know anyone who had gone abroad either, so I believed it was impossible for me personally and financially.”

Sanchez first learned about study abroad through her University 101 course during her first semester at KU. A SAGE peer advisor presented on the upcoming study abroad fair, which encouraged Sanchez to attend the event and learn about the range of opportunities available to her.  At the fair, Sanchez received information about the first study abroad program in which she participated - Preparing for International Careers in San José, Costa Rica led by Dr. Hamel. Sanchez said she was initially intimidated by the idea of the experience of interacting with professionals abroad, but ultimately this ended up being one of her favorite parts of her program. Sanchez says studying abroad challenged her to step outside of her comfort zone and encouraged her to participate in opportunities she never imagined were possible for herself before her time at KU.

Following her experiences in Costa Rica, Sanchez embraced international travel.  In summer 2019 she participated in the CIMBA Italy program in Paderno de Grapa, Italy, where she completed six credit hours in business core courses. For each of her study abroad programs, Sanchez received grants and need-based scholarships to fund a portion of her program costs. This not only made the programs more affordable to her, but it also put her on track to complete her bachelor’s degree one year early. Sanchez says she feels fortunate that her participation in these programs expanded her global perspective and also enabled her to explore and embrace her own identity.

As a peer advisor, Sanchez seeks to share her experiences with students like her who may believe study abroad is inaccessible.  She works to meet students in the places and spaces that are comfortable to them in order to facilitate open and honest conversations about study abroad as a first-generation or minority student.  Sanchez divides her time equally between the SAGE and TRIO offices, enabling students to meet with her in either location for walk-in advising services.  She engages regularly in social media outreach, and this fall Sanchez hosted an Instagram Live session targeted towards students who follow either the SAGE or TRIO social media accounts.  Sanchez also ensures study abroad materials are available to students through the TRIO office and maintains active involvement in SAGE’s Global Jayhawks campaign tailored to celebrating KU’s international community both on and off campus.  

Sanchez knows that studying abroad can seem unattainable to students, but her biggest piece of advice for students in the TRIO community is to utilize the resources available to them through both departments. She encourages students to challenge themselves and to learn more about opportunities that may be unfamiliar to them. Students may end up being pleasantly surprised, as she was, by the vast range of programs and services available to help support their international education endeavors.