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This article will be published in The Review’s special magazine issue, set to be available on campus starting the week of April 24.
In 1923, professor Raymond Kirkbride took the first group of students abroad to Paris, France via boat. Since then, the university has upgraded travel to airplanes and 100+ programs on all seven continents.
At the time of its inception, the university refused to fund Kirkbride’s research efforts. It was with the help of prominent private and public figures like then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover and a member of the prominent and wealthy du Pont family, Pierre S. du Pont, that the endeavor was made possible.
Since Kirkbride’s trip, the university’s history of study abroad has been full of “stops and starts,” according to Matthew Drexler, director of study abroad at the Center for Global Programs & Services (CGPS).
COVID-19’s effect on study abroad
Drexler cites travel abroad being shut down in light of World War II, 9/11 and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the fall of 2021, CGPS resumed study abroad after six terms of suspended academic travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We worked with the Risk and Security Assessment Committee, put together a list of policies and guidelines for students and faculty to follow to keep everybody safe and to plan for all the different scenarios,” Drexler says. “The set of policies and guidelines put together by CGPS and the Risk and Security Assessment Committee really helped make sure that we were able to restart the program.”
According to Drexler, in 2020 and 2021 there was a 90% nationwide drop in study abroad numbers, but as of now, Drexler cites CGPS as recovering 90% of their pre-pandemic programs.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the personal challenges of going abroad are among two of the challenges students have faced in recent years when it comes to study abroad. In spite of these challenges, study abroad remains a growing program.
Special sessions (winter and summer)
Since 1972, the university has also offered winter and summer abroad programs in addition to the traditional semester-long opportunities. Back then, according to the university’s study abroad website, so many students took advantage of the opportunity to spend their winter breaks abroad that the university could book entire airplanes exclusively for those students.
Students who are looking for a shorter time abroad or who cannot fit a full semester abroad into their course loads often utilize winter session study abroad opportunities, like senior sociology major Nina Sullivan who traveled to Thailand in January.
“I wanted to do like a full semester, and obviously with COVID that never could happen,” Sullivan says. “So the next thing would be the winter break, and I’m so happy that Delaware has an extra long session.”
During their winter session study abroad in January 2023, Shay Bloom, senior fashion merchandising major, traveled to France and interned for a fashion company that allowed them to work at Paris Fashion Week.
“I worked for three different shows,” Bloom says. “That was one of the best experiences, I even saw Usher backstage at one of the shows which was a cool, random thing.”
World Scholars program
Back in the fall of 2015, the university pioneered the World Scholars program to allow students to spend their first semesters in Greece, New Zealand, Spain or Italy. Among other globally-focused requirements, including living in the international living-learning community and completing a global studies minor, students in the program are also required to travel through any program sometime during their junior year.
“I knew that it was like it was gonna teach me a lot outside of school, outside of classes,” senior linguistics major Rachael Tilson says. “There are so many things that I just picked up and learned about through experience when I was there, which is something that was kind of elevated in a way that I couldn’t find here.”
Through the World Scholars program, Tilson traveled to Madrid for her freshman fall semester.
“Studying abroad at UD has such a long history, but the World Scholars program itself is a very young program,” Tilson says. “That just goes to show that there are lots of ways that you can innovate on study abroad and try ways to get people involved in traveling and seeing the world.”
How does the university compare to peer institutions?
Based on U.S. study abroad trends, the national total of students who have studied abroad represents less than 1% of all U.S. students enrolled in universities and less than 10% of college graduates. In part, these numbers are so low due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the NAFSA: Association of International Educators. In the national demographic of students who studied abroad in the 2020-2021 school year, 68% of students identified as Caucasian.
The university currently advertises that more than 30% of students study abroad at least once before graduation, though it is not clear whether the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will change that statistic. Its peer universities tend to have similar statistics. The University of Maryland (UMD) claims that over 23% of its students study abroad prior to graduation, while the College of New Jersey (TCNJ) says 25% to 30% of each graduating class participates in education abroad. According to Pennsylvania State University, approximately 44% of its students were sent abroad on semester programs during the 2018-19 academic year.
It is unclear how much is spent on financial assistance at these universities, although they all offer a financial aid plan of some kind. TCNJ provides 11 college-funded scholarships for study abroad, on top of other opportunities for financial assistance. In addition to their general financial need scholarships, both UMD and Penn State offer several overall scholarships and a host of department and program-specific scholarships for study abroad.
At the University of Delaware, from the summer of 2021 through the spring of 2022, CGPS awarded $512,990 in scholarships to 179 students who participated in 47 different programs.
“We give out almost one million dollars of scholarship funds towards program fees based on need and then there are other ways to look for money outside of just that process,” Drexler says. “Our goal is to try to make it work for everybody and find ways to facilitate a study abroad experience.”
Although CGPS awards students with scholarships just as its peer universities do, Tilson is hopeful that more involvement, resources and activities will go into university study abroad programs like the World Scholars program to keep students engaged and involved.