(St. Louis) -- Changes may be in the works for the Study Abroad program at Saint Louis University in regards to its ability to enhance the student experience.
According to Tim Hercules, director of Student Educational Services and International Services, the university is planning on integrating a welcome back program for students returning to SLU after studying abroad.
“When students come back we'll have a 're-orientation' and social for students to help progress being back in St. Louis,” said Hercules.
Hercules, who studied abroad himself at the SLU Madrid campus as an undergraduate at SLU and recently began his current position in February, said he knew the program needed to be altered when he started the job because of his personal experience and the feedback from study abroad focus groups that took place in the fall 2010 semester.
Presently, SLU offers a course upon returning called Cross-Cultural Re-Entry From Study Abroad, yet it seems unpopular with study abroad students and has suffered from low enrollment. In hopes of bettering the class, Hercules said that those involved are going to look at how many students are registering and re-evaluate the class. The goal is to both enhance the class and help students find a support system.
In addition to the new events, Hercules said that the department is planning on having both a coordinator and counselor, along with himself, to oversee the experiences of study abroad students at campuses other than Madrid. In the past, one person oversaw the program and that, according to Hercules, did not leave enough time and energy to focus on both the logistics of travel and enrollment as well as students’ emotions. By implementing this change, Hercules hopes to enrich the total experience of the students involved.
Additional changes to the current program that Hercules is developing include online video conferences with students studying abroad during information sessions as well as having photograph and video contests among students who studied abroad. All of these are geared to assist with recruiting both freshmen and study abroad students.
According to student Anne Foos, who studied at SLU Madrid in the spring of 2010, the student study abroad experience at the Madrid campus is different from the experiences outside of a SLU-affiliated school.
“My friends at SLU were still taking the same classes that I was taking in Madrid,” said Foos.
According to Foos, returning to St. Louis after studying at SLU’s Madrid campus isn’t as much of a culture shock as it may be for students who partook in other programs.
With SLU Madrid, it’s different than other programs because all of the people that I was with [in Madrid] are basically always with me here,” said Foos. "I kept up with people when I was abroad so I did not feel as if I fell off the face of the earth for six months.”
Despite the possibilities of new adjusting programs, not all students believe they are needed.
“I went to a meeting that was organized for study abroad students [after coming back to campus],” said student Sara Brouillette. “I didn’t expect them to do anything because it was my thing. I needed to rehabilitate myself into American college life.”
Brouillette studied abroad for three semesters in China and France.
“I definitely felt weird [coming home],” said Brouillette. “You go from being in a place that’s so different… It was the complete opposite of France.”
Despite that feeling, Brouillette said nothing more could have been done to enhance her experience because it was too personal. While Hercules mentioned that factors in these experiences are “personal,” he still hopes to remind students that the university is striving to take measures in helping students ease back into St. Louis life.
One aspect that Hercules reinforced is that he hopes to make SLU more intrusive in students’ routines while studying abroad in order to keep them current with SLU campus issues as well as reminding them that they have not been forgotten.
“Remember you’re still a SLU student,” said Hercules.
According to SLU’s website, more than 800 students studied abroad between the fall 2008 and summer 2009 semesters.
Jules Christensen and Kelsey Vaughan are students at Saint Louis University