After a little more than two weeks on a college tour in the United Kingdom, Marie Assir has a refreshed perspective on studying abroad.
"For undergraduate students it shows maturity and independence," said Assir, career resource specialist at South Lakes High School. "You can really make yourself stand out with a degree from the University of Glamorgan, Wales, and a year of experience" working overseas.
Assir was a part of a group of 11 counselors from high schools all over the United States who visited more than 10 universities in the United Kingdom. Sponsored by the British Council, the tour has taken high school counselors for the last three years from the United States to introduce them to opportunities available for American students in the UK. Assir is the first counselor from Fairfax County to attend the program. She said that in the last three years about 40 students from Fairfax County schools applied to colleges and universities outside of the United States.
"It is really a possibility for our students," said Assir. She said American students need to look outside the box. "It’s OK to go to a school outside of Virginia, or outside of the United States," she said. She added that the group met an American student at almost every university visited during the tour. All of them have had a great experience studying in the UK. Assir said they get a chance to travel to other places in Europe on the weekends, and their student visa affords them 20 hours per week to work and gain experience in a field of interest.
"STUDY ABROAD is fantastic if you do it the right way," said Assir. She said some students who study abroad cling to their compatriots and do not immerse into the culture of the place where they are studying. Attending a university creates an environment that by nature immerses a person into the place where he or she is studying. Assir added that she thinks it is time for some Americans to change their psyche about foreign travel and experiences. She said many people in this country have never considered traveling outside of it. "It is time for us as Americans to break out of our own little shell," she said.
While she would not hesitate to recommend studying abroad if the situation is right for a student, Assir said there are drawbacks to it. With the U.S. dollar growing weaker compared to European currencies, Assir estimates that it would take about $35,000 per year for an American student to attend some of the universities she visited on the tour. She said it is rare for those institutions to give scholarships, but said that some scholarships and loans could be transferred from the U.S.
THE UNIVERSITIES she visited are hoping the number of Americans attending their institutions will grow. "They’re anxious to get our students because we have a pretty good system," she said. Students at South Lakes and other high schools that have the International Baccalaureate program may have an advantage. "Most if not all universities [visited] are very familiar with the U.S. version [of the IB program.] They really want those students because it is one of the most challenging, progressive, academic programs," said Assir. She said the group met with international admissions officers from the universities it visited, who told them what kind of a student the universities in the UK are looking for. "They’re looking for a very very competitive student, and they can be fairly selective because they get students from all over the world," said Assir. She added that the three-year undergraduate programs in the UK are very focused, and the students should know from the very beginning what it is they want to study.
Assir is planning to share the information about her visit with the other career and resource centers in county high schools. She will also post her presentation on her own blackboard site.