Being an AIFS alum myself, I can attest to the major impact this program has had on where I am today. In January of 2016, I embarked on what would be the best academic semester of my life in London. That spring, I traveled to new countries, met new friends, learned new things about the world, my surroundings, and myself.
That was a little over two years ago. Today, I am currently pursuing my Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations at Richmond, the American International University in London. For anyone that has participated in the AIFS in London study abroad program, this is the same university where students attend.
Studying abroad with AIFS gave me the courage to not only pursue my graduate degree, but to pursue it abroad. I knew pursuing education at a higher level would be challenging but I also knew it would be more rewarding to pursue it in a place that made me realize so much about myself and the world. Studying abroad gave me courage to try new things. It took me out of my comfort zone and dropped me in a place that I was not familiar with. This unfamiliarity made me become quicker in my thinking and more open to other people. It also made me value the fact that everyone has a story to tell if you care to listen. It taught me to slow down and also to appreciate the opportunities that I have been given. It humbled me and educated me. And had I never studied I abroad, I would have most likely not have left the country yet or have pursued a graduate degree. I certainly would not be the person I am today and as fulfilled as I am.
AIFS has continuously promoted international learning and exploration both of physical places and of the self. As an ode to the program that contributed to me being where I am today, I thought it would only be right for me to concentrate my dissertation on the impacts studying abroad has on American students. With this topic in mind, I conducted some research through surveys of over 100 study abroad students and interviews to catch up with some AIFS alumni to see how this study abroad program impacted them. Below you will find some quotes and research from the interviews and surveys I have conducted over the summer months.
How AIFS Impacted Its Alumni
“I wanted to have a new and unique experience during which I could completely immerse myself in a new culture with new people. I was thrown completely out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t majorly impactful-I had never really had the itch to study-maybe I said I had but it wasn’t really there until I got abroad and then bang! It was an incredibly freeing feeling to literally have the world at my fingertips. The bonds I formed with the people I met are unbreakable and so unique. They are friendships that I will forever hold near and dear.” – Kelsey R., AIFS in London, England, Spring 2016
“I’ve always wanted to live abroad, and I love traveling. I had never been to London before and had always dreamed about it so that is why I decided to go there. I didn’t know anyone going in, so it forced me to break out of my shell and be a little more social than I normally would be. That has definitely helped me later on in life, I feel more confident going into a new and unfamiliar situation. I also made some of the best friends while I was abroad. We are from all over and we still speak and see each other often. I’m very thankful for my abroad experience through AIFS.” – Ryleigh W., AIFS in London, England, Spring 2016
“I had wanted to study abroad since my sophomore year of high school because I wanted to work on becoming a true global citizen to be a better journalist. As the child of African immigrants, it opened my eyes once again to the way others live, think and interact.” – Clarice M., AIFS in London, England, Fall 2016
“I wanted to experience being in a new country. Studying abroad gave me a new sense of self. And taught me a lot about other cultures and ways of life. Studying abroad helped me find a new community of people I still talk to and are friends with today. It was probably my best undergrad decision.” – Najzali A., AIFS in London, England, Spring 2016
“I wanted to study abroad to travel, learn, have a completely new experience, live abroad & see a new culture. It had an amazing impact on my life and was very life changing for me to live out of my culture, country and explore new things. I feel as though I became a different person through it because of the challenges as well as the amazing adventurous times.” – Katie R., AIFS in London, England, Spring 2016
“I had never been out of the country before so I had a pretty strong desire to visit places that had so much history, experience different cultures, and meet new people. It definitely made me more culturally aware.” – Maryclaire G., AIFS in London, England, Spring 2016
“I chose to study abroad because I’ve always liked to travel but had never left the country. It was affordable and helped me see American politics from a global perspective, which impacted the remainder of my undergrad coursework.” – Knychelle P., AIFS in London, England, Spring 2016
Research Data Conclusions
With studying abroad becoming more accessible, it was interesting to compare some of my findings against national surveys. Here are some conclusions drawn from my research.
Forty-one percent of AIFS alumni have traveled outside of the United States since their study abroad semester. Eight percent are currently pursuing or have pursued a graduate degree abroad, while twelve and a half percent of students are currently pursuing their graduate degree in the United States. Twenty percent are considering pursuing their graduate degree abroad after their time studying abroad with AIFS and fourteen percent are working or have worked abroad.
Studying abroad continues to remain dominated by women with eighty-four percent of responders being female. Racial demographics seem to be consistent among Caucasian students with seventy-five percent studying abroad. However, Black or African American and Asian or Asian American students accounted for nine percent, respectively. In 2015, Black students from America only accounted for six percent of students studying abroad. With this recent research, it seems that the amount of Black students studying abroad is on the rise.
The average age for students to study abroad is twenty years-old, meaning a majority of students are opting to do it during the fall or spring semester of their junior year of college. Due to university/extracurricular activities, financial restraints, and personal preference, an overwhelming majority of students continue to opt to study abroad for only one semester at ninety-two percent.
Thank You AIFS
It was great reaching out to fellow study abroad students, some of whom got to experience this amazing time with me and many others in our program. AIFS continues to offer a pathway for students to access international study and the opportunity to immerse themselves in another culture. Every day, AIFS encourages students to explore all corners of the world. It is safe to say that AIFS has impacted its students in a positive way.
Emma Oyomba was born in Bangkok, Thailand and raised in Connecticut. Inspired by her semester abroad with AIFS, Emma is now pursuing a Master’s degree in Advertising & Public Relations at Richmond, the American International University in London. When she isn’t working on her dissertation, she is working for PR agency FleishmanHillard in New York City.