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Short-term options increase participation but limit immersion

Miami University has long been known for its dedication to study abroad programs, but students' increasing preference for short-term trips over summer and winter may hinder their ability to immerse themselves in the local culture.

Assistant Provost of Global Initiatives Cheryl Young said that Miami has seen a 61 percent increase in the number of students studying abroad in the past 10 years.

Additionally, in each of the past ten years, Miami has been ranked in the top three public doctoral universities for percentage of students participating in study abroad by the Institute of International Education's Open Doors report.

Young's colleague Kevin Fitzgerald, Global Initiatives' primary study abroad advisor, attributes that rise to students participating in short-term study abroad programs in the summer and winter. (Winter-term courses were first offered during the 2012-13 school year.)

"We've tapped into an entirely new segment of the population," Fitzgerald said. "Students who would never consider studying abroad for a semester will study abroad for a few weeks."

This academic year, according to a report compiled by Young, Miami students participating in a short-term program account for 71 percent of students enrolled in study abroad.

But, Young said, short-term programs have some disadvantages.

"There's less cultural immersion [in short-term programs]," Young said. "When you're only at a place for three weeks, it's harder to get a true grasp on the culture and the way the people in that country live."

Senior Alex Ross, who traveled to Southeast Asia over winter term through the Farmer School of Business, agrees.

Over the course of his trip, Ross traveled to four different countries -- Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong and Vietnam -- in three weeks. Because of this, he said he didn't gain as much of an understanding of the local cultures as he would've liked.

"It felt like just as I was getting to know a place, we would have to pack up our stuff and move to a different place," Ross said.

The idea that that short programs result in less cultural immersion isn't unique to Miami. Last summer, The Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly published a report concluding that shorter-term programs result in less acquisition of language skills, less time to build relationships with locals and a lack of a holistic sense of the locals' way of living -- all factors that make up one's cultural immersion.

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In the longer programs, such as the MUDEC program in Luxembourg, students are abroad for 16 weeks and stay with a host family. On the weekends, they have the chance to travel to other countries and immerse themselves in local culture.

That's exactly what Maddie Wood has done during her semester in Luxembourg. Wood spends a lot of her weekly free time in Belval, a local neighborhood that is home to the University of Luxembourg, a large shopping center and several restaurants. She's even joined a local gym.

By contrast, in the majority of Miami's short-term programs, like the one Ross participated in, students stay at hotels and are with faculty and other Miami students for the entire trip.

While the number of students going on these short-term programs has increased dramatically, the number of students who go on the semester-long programs hasn't changed.