Jesse Lopez, 24, a Japanese major, recently finished his yearlong study abroad program in Oita, Japan. After landing at Los Angeles International Airport, he was struck by the customs officer who made no eye contact.
In Japan, Lopez said he would have had a warm welcome and the best customer service.
“I still feel (reverse) culture shock every now and then,” he said.
According to Maria Flores, the study abroad program advisor at SF State, Lopez was one of about 450 students that studied abroad during the 2009-2010 school year.
SF State, known for its large international student population, is one of the leading CSU campuses sending graduate students abroad. The University is also ranked fourth in the nation for the number of students awarded the coveted study abroad Gilman Scholarship.
There are currently 24 destination countries offering study abroad programs for 64 majors at SF State, while options continue to expand.
Lopez said he transferred from San Diego Mesa College to SF State partly because it sends the most students abroad compared to other schools.
Flores said the University has been pretty successful in its study abroad program because it gives students two options to choose from.
They can either go through the CSU International Programs or through SF State’s bilateral exchange programs. While CSU IP requires students to take a yearlong program anywhere they choose to go, SF State’s bilateral program has more flexibility by allowing students to go for just one or two semesters.
The bilateral program adds more choices for destinations and programs that students can take while abroad.
“The bilateral exchange program exists primarily to supplement majors that may not be served through CSU IP program,” Flores said. “It gives more options to students. We work hard to try to at least offer one destination for pretty much all the majors at SF State.”
Through both programs students pay the same tuition of their home university. It contrasts the notion that studying abroad is costly.
“The living cost was way cheaper when I studied abroad. I pay $200 a month for rent and that included electricity and Internet,” said Bill Sandberg, an international relations major who studied in Mexico for a year. “And it’s a big house with a view of the whole city. To get a full meal will be 40 pesos or like $3.50.”
Studying abroad can be costly but depending on the destination.
Places like France and other large European countries, for example, can be quite costly in terms of accommodations like housing and food compared to other Asian and Latin America countries.
Flores said Korea is becoming more popular because of its low cost.
The cost to live and study in Korea’s Chung Ang University for a year is around $18,860. The same program could cost $4,630 more in Paris, France.
Students have to weigh the benefit versus the costs.
Parul Gujral, an international business major, plans on studying abroad next semester in the American Business School in Paris. He understands that it would cost him a lot to study in a city like Paris but said he is “investing in a future.”
“I’m cutting my term short and limiting the opportunity that I already have. It’s a pretty big obligation,” Gujral said.
Gujral, like many others, hopes to experience new things and life-changing experiences while studying abroad.
“Study abroad is now a practical decision as well as a learning experience,” said My Yarabinec, the associate director for study abroad and international exchange programs. “Students who study abroad stand out from the others who do not have this type of international experience.”
Alumni of study abroad program often also feel that they gained valuable life experiences.
“I think if anyone wants to learn about themselves and what it means to be Americans, then they have to experience something that is completely different,” Lopez said. “Most people don’t even realize they have a culture.”
Christine Tjandra SFSU