World Class Learning

More African Americans are getting advanced degrees overseas. Here's a snapshot view on how to make the most of it.

Imagine jaunting past double-decker buses and looking right instead of left as you cross the streets of London on your way to class. Or taking in the Baroque architecture of Brussels as you contemplate an upcoming exam on the intricacies on international commerce. These are not fantasy spring breaks, but reality for individuals who have chosen to pursue degrees abroad.

Foreign study, whether for credit or a degree, is no longer just a perk of the intellectual or financial elite. Today, employers place a high value on candidates with a background in international business and culture. Thanks to an abundance of exchange programs, scholarships and fellowships, record numbers of students are going abroad to study and soak up the culture firsthand. Most go for six weeks, a semester or even a year to study–others are enrolling for three or more years to undergraduates study or to complete their postgraduate programs. According to the Institute of International Education in New York, the number of American studying abroad increased nearly 6% in 1995-96 (the most recent year for which statistics are available) to 89,242, up from 84,403 the year before. Nonetheless, those numbers pale in comparison to the more than 400,000 foreign students who flocked to American institutions of higher learning during the same period. In fact, the number of Americans studying abroad represents less than 1% of total U.S. post-secondary school enrollments.

Most of those pursuing degrees abroad major in humanities or social sciences and go to Western Europe. “In some countries such as England, where only 20% of applicants are even admitted to college, admission standards are very high,” says David C. Larsen, vice president and director for the Center for Education Abroad at Beaver College in Glenside, Pennsylvania. “It’s not an easy task to gain admission, but an international education allows you to get to know another culture. That can be a benefit to you and your resume.”

Before you pack, consider that costs can be a prevailing deterrent if the school is not approved for U.S. financial aid. Even if tuition is cheaper than in the U.S., the cost of living, depending on the country, might be much higher. You must also research a school’s accreditation and how a foreign degree will play in the U.S. job market. In addition, pursuing an education abroad will force you to push the envelope not only academically, but also culturally, as you adapt to a different environment.

When Maya Kulycky took off for London in 1996, it was to learn under a famed and respected professor. As a political science major at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, she had become intrigued with the work of sociologist Paul Gilroy and his examination of African populations in the diaspora. With an unwavering interest in race relations and having written her senior-year thesis on the history of race riots in the U.S., she headed off for a year-long master’s degree program in urban studies at Goldsmith College at the University of London, where Gilroy is now

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