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Q&A: Melanie Eslinger '01

Melanie Eslinger, assistant director of international studies. Photo credit: Paul Hjellming '13

Building cultural awareness and getting out of one’s comfort zone are increasingly important, especially in today’s interconnected, globalized society. Luckily Bethel offers a bevy of off-campus study opportunities across the Twin Cities and around the world! We talked to Melanie Eslinger, assistant director of international studies, about how to decide if, where, and when to study abroad, and how an off-campus or international experience can impact a student’s life and career. Here’s what she had to say:

How did you end up at Bethel, and what do you enjoy most about your position?

I came to Bethel as an undergrad student in the fall of 1997, graduated in 2001, and started working here full time soon after graduating. I studied sociocultural studies and Spanish and spent a semester in Guatemala during my junior year. After graduation, I found out that a new position had been created in the Office of Off-Campus Programs/International Studies. I realized this was a great fit, and here I am 15 years later! I really enjoy working with students throughout the whole process of studying abroad—from the initial meeting and looking at all the options, helping them navigate the application process, sharing their excitement during orientation, assisting them while they’re abroad, and welcoming them back to campus. It is especially satisfying when a student has specific coursework requirements and we can identify a program that helps keep them on track academically.

How many Bethel students study abroad, and where are some of the places they go?

Around 60% of Bethel students do some type of off-campus program during their time here, and there are about 50 students spending the entire fall 2016 semester abroad! By far our biggest participation happens over the month of January when we have faculty-led interim programs in Latin America (Belize, Guatemala, and Ecuador), Europe (multi-country options), the Middle East (sometimes Israel and Greece/Turkey), Asia (India), and Africa (Kenya). Students wanting to do a semester abroad have access to many program providers around the world as well as Bethel's own programs in Guatemala, Spain, England, Kenya, and a multi-country program in Europe. Some students study off-campus in the United States at established programs in Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, and Washington, D.C.

What are the benefits of gaining an international experience?

We have seen that study abroad enhances employment prospects. If an employer is comparing two otherwise similar resumes, an applicant with international experience is highly valued. Students gain firsthand, practical experience. Studying a foreign language? It makes a huge difference to be in a country where that language is spoken and to speak it outside the classroom. Studying international business? What a great opportunity to visit multinational corporations or do an internship abroad! Studying abroad allows students to learn more about themselves. By leaving their comfort zone, they can be challenged and given the opportunity to test their limits, identify their strengths, and cultivate new skills. Spiritual development has also been identified as an outcome of study abroad. Students see God at work in other countries through the church, mission organizations, and fellow believers. Many students are examining their beliefs and claiming their faith as their own as they study and serve. International experiences help create global citizens, students who can interact positively with people from other countries, backgrounds, and beliefs. This creates empathy and understanding in our interconnected world.

How can parents encourage their students to consider an international experience, and what does the enrollment process typically look like?

The decision to study abroad is often a family decision. I answer a lot of students’ and families’ questions about locations, safety, program quality, on-site support, and finances. I always welcome those calls/emails/visits! As far as choosing and applying for a program, here’s what you can expect:

For January (J-term/Interim) Programs: These are 3½-week programs typically led by one or two Bethel faculty members. A J-term program can be done any year, assuming the student has met the prerequisites. Many courses fulfill general education requirements or electives, making them a good option for a variety of majors. There is an additional program fee for each course taken above the cost of a typical school year, usually around $3,000-6,000 depending on location and activities. Some students pay in monthly installments during the months leading up to the program, and some take out additional loans. Students can start to apply for January programs the previous April, with the final enrollment deadline in mid-September.

For Semester Programs: There is so much variety in semester-long study abroad programs. Students need to have at least sophomore status (sometimes by credit, sometimes by year) to participate, and seniors can only do a semester program if it meets Bethel's residency requirements. Bethel offers five of its own semester-long programs, but we also partner with many organizations so students can choose from more locations and academic courses. Bethel-administered programs are typically billed at a comprehensive fee equivalent to Bethel's on-campus tuition, room, and board…and that includes airfare. So that means you won’t pay more to study abroad for a semester than you would to be on campus for that same semester! Other programs are billed Bethel's tuition rate plus the room/board rate of their chosen program. For any approved program, students can typically use their financial aid package including state and federal financial aid as well as Bethel‘s institutional gift aid (for one semester).

Want to see what current Bethel students are up to around the world? Check out their posts using #BethelAbroad on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!


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