Nadine Gerdes, a senior study abroad adviser with Berkeley Study Abroad, has been working with the organization since 1991. Gerdes chatted with The Daily Californian about how to study abroad and why it’s a worthwhile experience.
The Daily Californian: Why should students study abroad?
Nadine Gerdes: It’s a fantastic experience for them. When they come back, they say it’s the best thing they ever did — the best part of their college career. … Studying abroad exposes you to new ideas in the classroom, and you see how other people live, and it just broadens your outlook a lot. That should be fostered and encouraged.
DC: How does the financial aid process work?
NG: Berkeley is completely supportive of study abroad, so if you go on an approved UC program, you can use your financial aid to finance it. … They are registered at Cal when they go abroad, so they are making progress towards their degree, so that’s how it works. Our office is fortunate enough to have financial aid counselors here to advise students. … They can make students feel pretty comfortable about the financing and what to expect.
DC: Can you talk more about scholarships for studying abroad?
NG: UCEAP has promised awards that they fund for every term a program is offered. … They also have some very special scholarships for students who want to study abroad for a year. We make sure students are aware of these, and we publicize the deadlines.
DC: What would you say to students who think they don’t have time in their schedules to go abroad?
NG: We have programs for almost every kind of student. We have programs with GPA requirements of 2.0, so very low entry level, and students from absolutely every major can go abroad and take classes that will apply to their major or minor or breadth requirement. … So students may feel they don’t have time, especially double majoring or double minoring or both, but with careful planning, they can actually take classes … that will apply and substitute for courses here, and they can also have wonderful opportunities for research opportunities abroad for internships. … So students can definitely make this happen.
DC: What’s the most popular destination for students? What’s the most expensive?
NG: I think the most popular places are in Europe, and probably in the United Kingdom — probably in Italy, France, a lot of the European countries in Western Europe. … I think Asia is also quite popular. I know New Zealand and Australia are quite popular.
I guess Europe is expensive. It’s getting to be less so because of the fact that the dollar is appreciating compared with the euro, and that’s benefiting our students. If you want to talk about inexpensive locations — Asia. It’s always been inexpensive and, I think, more so because of the fact that the dollar is appreciating.
DC: What’s the first step students can take to get started?
NG: Go on our website, studyabroad.berkeley.edu, and just check out programs you’re interested in. Secondly, you should come to our office in 160 Stephens Hall. We have drop-in advising on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m., and we have financial aid counselors here at the same time, and we have peer advising on Wednesday from 1 to 5 p.m.
DC: How easy would you say it is to study abroad?
NG: It’s very easy. You do have to do the work. You have to figure out your financial aid situation and how your bills are going to be paid, and you also have to do a lot of predeparture paperwork — applying for visas and residence permits and health requirements. … But if you can plug away at the paperwork, it’s very easy.
DC: Have you seen any changes or trends in studying abroad since you’ve been working here?
NG: Students now are not studying so much in the host country language. They’re not majoring in languages as much as they used to. So they’re tending to look for programs where they can study abroad in English. To me, that’s a little bit of the negative side. … But the flip side is that they’re studying a lot more in the technical fields. … Now I think it’s that everyone can go.
DC: Can you tell us about the Study Abroad Fair happening Friday at the International House?
NG: We’ve been doing a really huge, successful fair for many years. We have almost 60 program providers coming from independent programs and from campus organizations.
According to Gerdes, two major concerns students have about studying abroad are finances and academics. The price tag on your study abroad experience may seem intimidating at first, but there are plenty of resources and opportunities to help mitigate those costs. The Daily Californian has put together a quick rundown of facts and tips from the Berkeley Study Abroad website about financing your studies abroad.
Did you know?
- Longer-term programs typically give you more bang for your buck than short-term programs.
- Major cities, especially those in Western Europe, tend to have a higher cost of living that may lead to higher program costs.
- Program cost estimates do not usually include expenses such as personal travel and emergencies.
- You can apply your existing UC Berkeley financial aid toward the cost of studying abroad.
Tips for financing your studies abroad:
- Do your research, and understand your costs.
- Apply for scholarships.
- Create a budget, and track your expenses.
- Meet with a financial aid counselor to review your financial aid package.
- Use crowdfunding websites to start a fundraising campaign.
- Scholarships are offered to UC Berkeley students participating in certain UC Education Abroad programs, and for some of these scholarships, no application is necessary; qualified students are automatically considered.
- A number of on-campus divisions sponsor scholarships that are open to UC Berkeley students participating in international study and/or research.
- There is a wide array of scholarships sponsored by non-UC Berkeley organizations that are open to all students interested in studying or conducting research abroad.
- For example, the Benjamin Gilman International Scholarship seeks to recruit a diverse range of students to study abroad. The Berkeley Study Abroad office will help interested applicants with their application materials and recruits students who have received the scholarship in years past to help advise during the process.
- Independent programs affiliated with UC Berkeley, such as IES Abroad and the American Institute for Foreign Study, offer grants to campus students enrolling in their programs.