March 1 is the deadline for all 2018-2019 international exchange programs. According to exchange coordinator Hannah Jones, these programs differ from typical study abroad programs in that they work for more majors and allow students more independence.
“Through an exchange program, students have the chance to immerse themselves in the culture of their host country by being in classes, joining student organizations, and participating in events, just like any other student on [the partner university’s] campus,” Jones said.
Other perks exchange students receive include 12 to 18 hours of Southern Miss credit per semester while paying only in-state tuition, an application fee and a program fee.
Jones said that there are many benefits of studying abroad.
“As cliché as it is, studying abroad is life-changing,” Jones said.“Not only is it going to help students discover themselves, but it is also going to help them gain valuable skills and experiences that they can articulate in their future job applications or graduate school personal statements.”
Junior marketing major Gaby Alongia, who is currently at an exchange program with Keele University in the United Kingdom, said that studying abroad is very different from organizing a trip of your own.
“If you go on a trip, you don’t truly experience the country,” Alongia said. “Studying abroad is such a unique experience that you won’t get to live at any other moment in your life. It has humbled me and made me realize that the world is much bigger than we think.”
“All study abroad programs are beneficial to students’ personal growth, career aspirations, and more,” Jones said. “However, semester [or] academic year international exchange programs intensify those benefits.”
“Exchange students don’t just get a taste of the culture, they are living and breathing that culture for an entire semester or year,” Jones said. “They don’t have just a weekend or two to travel, they have a whole semester to find times to really explore the country they are in as well as nearby countries. If they are studying a language, instead of only having weeks to practice their language skills, they have months to use and perfect that language in their daily lives.”
Junior Spanish major Collyn Bassett enjoyed a study abroad program in Jaen, Spain, where she had the opportunity to practice her Spanish skills among few English speakers.
“In the beginning, it was very challenging,” Bassett said. “But in retrospect, I learned more than just another language there. I learned the value of communicating well and finding connections with people. Spending a semester in Jaen was the most challenging, rewarding and exciting thing I had ever done. Now I find myself accepting more challenges and encouraging other people to do the same.”
Like Alongia, junior public relations major and Study Abroad Peer Advisor Emily Runnels spent last fall at Keele University. Runnels said that she would not trade her exchange experience for anything.
“Living in a foreign country allowed me to see how others live while also enhancing my love for the United States and Southern Miss,” Runnels said. “I was able to go to 11 countries all while staying on track with my classes. I joined several societies and made friends from all over Europe and America and now whenever I want to go back I have a guaranteed couch to stay on.”
Junior English major Jack Hoda, who is currently studying abroad at the University of Exeter in Devon, England, said that meeting people has been the best part of his experience so far.
“At Exeter, specifically, you have the opportunity to live in a complex full of other international students, so everyone is scrambling for friendship that first week,” Hoda said. “I love being able to have so many new experiences and meet amazing humans from all over the world.”
Hoda said that the cost of the exchange programs should not discourage interested students from applying.
“It’s little more than you would be paying for tuition, room and board at Southern Miss for a semester, and there are tons of scholarships to apply for,” Hoda said.
“Don’t let fears of finances get in your way of exploring what opportunities are out there,” Jones said. If you are considering studying abroad even a small amount, take 15 minutes to come and talk to us in the Office of Study Abroad about your options.”
As the first step in the application process, interested students can make an appointment with Jones at Hannah.L.Jones@usm.edu to figure out the right program for them.