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DU Study Abroad Programs Underscore Importance of Global Educational Experiences

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Emma Atkinson

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students from du studying abroad in mexico

A group of DU students studying abroad in Mexico.

Caitlyn Conway is confident heading into her last quarters at the University of Denver. That confidence, she says, partly comes from her study abroad experiences.

The senior international studies student says that without study abroad, she’d be feeling lost heading into a post-grad world.

“If you'd asked me [in] my sophomore year what I wanted to do, I would have told you, you know, I want to be ambassador or I want to work in the UN, or something along those lines,” Conway reflects. “But I think studying abroad, in a lot of field-based experiences that I was fortunate to have, helped me see where my skillsets are best suited and how I can translate that into different work that I hadn't previously considered.”

Conway studied in Amman, Jordan, in the fall of 2021 and in London, England, during the winter and spring quarters of 2022. She says going abroad amid a waning pandemic presented some challenges—but DU’s Office of International Education (OIE) helped mitigate her concerns.

“I think it was nice to not have someone like breathing over my shoulder the whole time, but also being like, ‘We're here as a resource if you need us,’” she says. “So, I think that, overall, prepared me to go into a very different cultural space and to feel confident going into that situation.”

Like many universities, DU paused all international travel in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the 2021 Open Doors U.S. Study Abroad Report, this resulted in a 91% decrease in study abroad during the 2020-2021 academic year. DU’s study abroad trends during this time followed those reported by the Institute of International Education in its Spring 2022 snapshot report.

Since then, DU’s study abroad program has returned in robust fashion, with OIE now offering summer programs for students who may have missed out on international education due to the pandemic. In 2021-2022, more than 400 DU students participated in credit-bearing international programs, despite the fact that several countries were still closed to visitors due to COVID-19 restrictions. And the University projects that study abroad enrollment will be back to pre-pandemic application numbers for 2023-2024.

The importance of an education abroad experience is more crucial now than ever before to provide our students the multi-dimensional education that prepares them to make a difference and thrive in this world,” says Uttiyo Raychaudhuri, DU Vice Provost for Internationalization.

According to Emelee Volden, director of the Office of International Education, “The pandemic showed us that people need to come together to solve hard problems, and they need to do so with cultural understanding and empathy”—even if it’s virtual. During the pandemic, the OIE launched virtual global learning experiences to continue giving students opportunities to engage in diverse cultural settings. The OIE continues to offer virtual international programs and is currently working to expand Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) courses.”  

Conway says her study abroad experience was central to defining her time at DU, even with pandemic challenges. After two years of online school, being able to be back in the classroom—and in another country—was invaluable.

“It's a really great chance to take what you've learned in these textbook settings and lectures and seminars on a campus in your first two years and actually see how it plays out into the real world; and maybe challenge some of that thinking too, and to come up with your own perceptions of how the world operates. So, I think that's why it's been such a foundational part for my personal, academic and professional experiences.”

For students looking to study abroad in the 2023-2024 academic year, the OIE priority deadline is December 1 (with a final deadline February 1).