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Resources available to help students navigate study abroad


Less than two months before her study abroad trip to Beijing, Hannah Marlowe sat in her Chinese class on a Wednesday morning, listening to the professor and taking notes.

When she checked her phone, an email labeled “urgent” told her the trip had been canceled.

“I see this and I start panicking,” Marlowe said.

She told a classmate what was going on and ran out of the room in tears, her mind racing with questions about nonrefundable plane tickets and a job she already took time off for.

Marlowe, a freshman in exploratory studies, found herself having to scramble to join a group traveling to Shanghai instead, but competition was fierce.

“It felt like the Hunger Games.”

Low enrollment causing a trip to be canceled is one of many potential hiccups when studying abroad.

Visa applications, booking flights and hotels and transferring course credit from international universities are all challenges students face when taking advantage of the travel opportunity.

But Marc Harris, a junior in chemical engineering, said the study abroad advisors can alleviate a lot of the stress when navigating the process.

Harris said he was planning on a two-week trip to South Korea in May, but right before spring break the program was canceled.

He emailed his adviser and had everything switched to a program in Singapore within a few days.

“For me, it really came down to Jenalee Converse,” Harris said. “Without all of that information that she gave me afterwards, I don’t know that I would have reapplied.”

Converse, a senior program assistant for Global Engineering Programs and Partnerships, a part of Purdue’s Study Abroad Office, said the most common reason trips like Marlow’s and Harris’ get canceled is low enrollment.

If not enough students sign up for a trip and budget constraints can’t justify the program, students are referred to another trip they can join instead.

GEPP Assistant Director Heidi Parker said these decisions are usually made early enough that students can easily find another trip to join.

Parker said cancellations due to low enrollment are most common in niche, specific programs.

“Something not so appealing to a mainstream group,” like specific technical or nuclear programs, “may not get enough,” she said.

Both Converse and Parker agreed the best way to stay organized, whether your program experiences hiccups or runs flawlessly, is to read.

“Once you know you’re going, make sure you don’t ignore communications,” Parker said. “Because we do send a lot of emails.”

Converse said every communication a student gets from the study abroad office is important. While it’s easy to skim over emails and move onto the next thing, that message may have information that determines if you actually go abroad.

Parker said the department is piloting a Brightspace page dedicated to study abroad for easier organization. The page will group students in the same program to share specific information, such as itineraries.

Converse said the best way to stay organized is the My Study Abroad page available through myPurdue. She said the page answers many commonly asked questions, such as visa application guidelines and a list of required documents.

Each department has its own resources in addition to program leaders, Parker said. For GEPP, she helps host pre-departure orientation sessions.

One of the most common questions is what to pack, and Converse said her No. 1 suggestion is comfortable walking shoes.

“Students might think you guys walk around campus, and you’re used to it,” she said. “But some programs do require a lot of traveling by foot.”

Parker said this is why the orientation meetings are so important.

“We’ve tried to manage those expectations ahead of time,” she said. “If they skip it, you’re actually losing a lot of information.”