Approximately three and a half percent of U.S. college students study abroad for a semester or longer, according to a survey by the Institute of International Education. At Macalester, sixty percent of students study abroad — about seventeen times the national average. Over half of Macalester students leave campus during their college career, but what does that mean for those left here during any given semester?
“We’ve been doing this for so long that I think the campus has adapted to that being the steady state,” said Kevin Morrison, Director of the Center for Study Away. “Any given semester, about thirty percent of the junior class is not here, and that’s just something the campus is prepared for.”
Although this fluctuation in the junior class happens every year, it still has real effects on the students’ experiences.
As a junior who will study abroad this spring, Sam Aamot ’17 has noticed differences in her social life, academics and extracurriculars. Primarily, many of her friends and swim teammates are gone this semester. Aamot is also one of only two history majors in her year currently on campus. “The people I’ve been in classes with in past semesters are not here, so I feel a little alone on campus as a history major,” she said. Her approaching study abroad experience has been on her mind frequently as she finishes the application for her program and talks to friends who are away.
Noah Borochoff-Porte ’16, who did not study away, noticed study abroad was a significant part of everyday discussion before and during junior year. “Everyone was panicking about the application process and getting it all done, and people talked about what they were going to do and where they were going to go,” he said. “It was all very exciting.”
There are mixed perceptions, however, on how those who return from study abroad affect discourses on campus and readjust to the Macalester lifestyle.
“I think more than anything, [the large portion of students who study away] contribute to the internationalism of the campus and helping all of our students, even those who don’t get off campus, to develop maybe a slightly better global perspective,” Morrison said. He explained that by sharing their experiences in classes and social settings, study abroad returnees, like international students, raise awareness of global issues that otherwise may not be present on the Macalester campus.
Aamot has had personal conversations with seniors about how their perspectives and life plans changed due to their experiences abroad. An anthropology major – one of eleven majors on campus which require study abroad – Gabbi Morgenstern ’16 and her classmates occasionally bring up stories from study abroad, “but it’s never overwhelming,” she said.
Although most of Borochoff-Porte’s friends studied abroad last year, it’s not something that’s always talked about. “That’s a big stereotype that I thought would happen,” he said. “I thought people would come back and talk about all the things they did and people they met, but study abroad is a very contained experience…”
There are some spaces on campus built exactly for the purpose of talking about study away, however. For example, weekly study away returnee lunches were developed to give students the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and apply them to life at Macalester and beyond.
Morgenstern said that even though it’s tough to return to busy academic and work cultures after study abroad, it’s easy to ease back into friendships. “I don’t think it was that hard to readjust. We’re still essentially the same people,” she said. Aamot added that even on the swim team, when studying away either semester means missing half the season, study abroad is welcomed as part of the team culture.