Interview with Dr. Thomas Ricks, Director of International Studies.
Fresh@News: Each year we send many students for study overseas, and I
understand that for the last several year the number of students who go
abroad has grown by almost 20% a year. Why are our students so
interested in international study?
Dr, Ricks: There are really a number of benefits to international
study. The most obvious, of course, is foreign language study. We all
know that one learns a language best by going to the country where it is
actually spoken, and our students frequently go abroad to get more
training in a language they already speak or to learn a new language.
Overseas experience is also enormously attractive to prospective
employers after a student graduates. Employers know that overseas study
means that a student has taken on new challenges and mastered them, has
learned to negotiate new and unfamiliar situations, and has gained
self-confidence. Indeed, in some cases, our students develop networks
and contacts overseas that even lead to overseas job offers. The
ultimate benefit, however, is that students gain an international
perspective. International study gives students new ways of seeing
themselves and their country, and the self-confidence of having
accomplished something on their own. It is so rewarding to see our
students returning from their overseas experience. They have, perhaps
for the first times in their lives, drawn up their own program, carried
it out, survived, and had a wonderful and unforgettable experience.
They come back with big smiles on their faces and with a remarkable
boost in self-confidence.
Fresh@News: You always hear the phrase “Junior Year Overseas.” Is it
too early for first year students to be thinking about overseas study?
Dr. Ricks: Many of our first year students participate in our
international summer intensive language or area studies programs. For
the language programs, they take their first semester or year of a
foreign language at Villanova, and then complete their language
requirement overseas for an additional six credits and grade between the
freshman and sophomore year. First year students also participate in our
area studies programs in Ireland, West Bank, or Chile. These students
completing two courses towards an area studies concentration, or the
study abroad International Business minor requirement. This allows them
to not only complete Villanova degree requirements, but also gets them
acquainted with living overseas. Often enough they will want to go back
again later as Juniors. We have fifteen summer programs, including
language programs in Spain (Cadiz and Madrid), France (Dijon and Paris),
Italy (Urbino-Florence), Jordan (Mafraq), and Germany (Tubingen), as
well as area studies programs in Ireland (Galway, the West Bank
(Bethlehem), and in Chile (Valparaiso). We also have business programs
in China (Shanghai and Beijing), Italy (Rome), Russia (Moscow-Nizhni
Novgorod-St.Petersburg), and in the UK (London), and special field
programs in Greece (Athens-Corinth-Delphi), in Israel (Tel Megiddo), and
in Italy (Siena). All of them are listed on our web-site which is:
Fresh@News: What happens in the summer programs?
Dr. Ricks: After an orientation at Villanova, the summer programs
typically last five to seven weeks and give six Villanova credits.
Usually the programs involve 20 to 25 students. A Villanova faculty
member always accompanies the group. We arrange the overseas housing,
and students typically have morning classes from nine AM to noon or 1:00
PM. The classes are held at international universities, and taught by
faculty members of the host countries. The programs also include field
trips. The students have a great time, and get a wonderful exposure to
the language, culture, and people of the country.
Fresh@News: What about the cost?
Dr. Ricks: The total cost for one of our summer programs ranges from
between $4500 and $5500, depending on the program. This includes
airfare, out of pocket expenses, and room and board. Financial aid
issues can be discussed with International Studies office.
Fresh@News. Let’s talk about the later years.
Dr. Ricks: We don’t advise students to study abroad for a semester or a
year until they are somewhat established in their majors, so this means
that students usually go as juniors or second semester sophomores. But
it is never too early for students to start to plan for study abroad.
Fresh@News: What kind of programs are available?
Dr. Ricks: For Arts and Science students, we have an enormous variety of
programs, with over 130 universities, colleges and institutes for them
to choose from globally. The most popular programs are in Western Europe
and (increasingly) in Australia, but we also have students studying in
Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. There is also a growing
interest in service learning programs that place our students in an
overseas university for 12 credits of work and then assign them to
something like a women's co-op society, a home for the aging, a youth
camp, or a hospital ward. Finally, there is a growing interest in
international internships, where students go to another country and work
for eight to ten weeks. Like our domestic internships, the students
receive credit for their work rather than a salary, and the work
assignments are a rich source of experience and also provide
international contacts in the student’s field.
Fresh@News: What about students from Commerce and Finance, Engineering,
Dr. Ricks: The deans in all three of the professional colleges are
enthusiastic about the benefits of international study, but because of
the strict accreditation requirements in the professional programs, the
students have less flexibility. Most of these students who do study
abroad go to a fairly limited number of programs. For those who
absolutely cannot go abroad for a semester, we also have some short-term
international programs that last only for a few weeks. Our Campus
Ministry department also offers international non-credit service trips,
which occur mostly during fall and spring vacation.
Fresh@News: What about the cost?
Dr. Ricks: There is good news on this front. Typically a semester or a
year abroad costs no more than a semester or a year at Villanova. In
most cases, students can also use their federal and state loans and
grants to pay for international study. There are some other scholarship
and financial aid possibilities for international study as well, which
we can review with students.
Fresh@News: Can you talk us through the process of taking an overseas
semester or year?
Dr. Ricks: All students begin by coming to the International Studies
Office for initial counseling. Our advisors will assess the students’
interests and try to refer them to programs that might be of interest to
them. Then we help them apply to those programs. After they are
admitted, we work closely with faculty members in the major and with the
deans to make sure that the students sign up for the right courses, and
to guarantee that the courses will transfer to Villanova when the
students return. (We make sure that international study does not put
students behind in their programs, or in any way jeopardize their
ability to graduate on time). Next is an orientation process and then
the student is sent overseas.
Fresh@News: What kind of support do we offer to our students?
Dr. Ricks: If you think about it, students have all of the same
problems in an international university that they have on campus, so we
need to be ready to offer academic counseling, as well as deal with
issues such as health, housing, lost passports, and every other
conceivable problem that can come up. Our first line of support is
e-mail, and when problems come up we are in immediate contact both with
our students and with the host institutions. Also we have contacts at
almost all of the international universities whom we can call upon to
provide support when our students need it. Generally it all works out
very well, and the people in our office have all become expert
international trouble-shooters. We also send the students a “care
package” with all sorts of things (like back issues of the Villanovan)
that will be helpful and interesting to them.
Fresh@News: How about when the students return?
Dr. Ricks: Anyone who works in international studies will tell you that
students sometimes experience more problems when they return to campus
than they did when they went abroad. Going overseas is exciting and
thrilling, but returning home can be a let down. The student has
experienced so much and sometimes has trouble sharing it with those who
have stayed on campus. Parents are sometimes "put off" by their sons and
daughters referring to their overseas parents as "Mom" and "Dad.” (The
students haven't forgotten about their own parents; it is just that the
intensity of their overseas living and learning has given them another
"dimension" to themselves that includes their overseas family, and
sometimes it is hard to share and communicate this.) To deal with these
issues, we offer an orientation program for our returning study-abroad
students, so that they can meet others who are going through the same
process of "re-entry" into the US and Villanova. This helps them
explore the ways that they can share their discoveries and learning with
their old friends at Villanova. Once they do make the adjustment, of
course, they become our greatest salespersons.
Fresh@News: What advice to you have for parents?
Dr. Ricks: I would advise parents to bring up the subject of
international study during the student’s first year. If the student is
interested and enthusiastic (as many of our students are), all the
parent has to do is to encourage the student to contact our office.
Sometimes, however, even self-confident young people are nervous about
overseas study. They have just made a wonderful group of friends at
Villanova and they are reluctant to leave. I would advise parents to
have their students talk to other students who have done international
studies, and, if possible, just give the idea of international study
some extra encouragement. I can assure parents that if their students do
follow up, it will be one of the peak experiences in their educational
career. I would also urge parents to consult our website at
www.internationalstudies.villanova.edu, just to see what is available.
Parents are always welcome to contact me, especially by e-mail at
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