Calvin Overseas Travel Rises

December 5, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Higher education in America and Europe during the 19th century rarely led to degrees or graduation, but often entailed a year of travel abroad.

The idea was to broaden the student’s book-bound horizons and to show that the Latin classics, modern foreign languages and philosophy classes on which he or she had slaved were the tickets to careers in commerce or diplomacy or both.

Since then, higher education has changed virtually beyond recognition, but the value of overseas travel for the student seems as great as ever — and particularly so, apparently, at Calvin College.

In fact, the Grand Rapids-based institution reportedly has one of the nation’s most-traveled student bodies, proportionately and in gross numbers alike.

According to Ellen Monsma, director of off-campus programs, Calvin is among the leading colleges in terms of students who study abroad.

She explained that in its category — master’s level institutions — Calvin ranks fifth among all U.S. universities and colleges, thanks to having a 50.9 percent participation rate in overseas study programs. 

When ranked according to sheer numbers, Monsma added, Calvin still ranks high — sixth in the country with 460 students studying abroad during the 2001-2002 academic year, the last year for which national statistical information is available.

She said study abroad is an important component of a Calvin education.

“Off-campus programs broaden students’ horizons significantly,” she said.

“Not only do they study academic courses, they also learn how to live in new and sometimes very different cultures. That demands a lot of flexibility and self-reliance.

“Returning to campus, students generally have a clearer idea of who they are,” Monsma said, “and they have a new perspective both on the world and on their Christian calling.”

She said more and more Calvin students are taking advantage of the chance to study overseas in Calvin-sponsored programs.

Almost half of Calvin's class of 2003 studied abroad at some point during their Calvin career.

“For about two-thirds of those students, their study abroad came during Calvin’s three-week January term called Interim,” she said. “About one-third of the students who study abroad do so for an entire semester.”

Monsma said the school’s off-campus programs effort allows Calvin students to choose from 10 destinations for semester-long study programs, including two in Honduras plus programs in Britain, China, France, Ghana, Hungary and Spain.

She said Calvin also has semester-long U.S. programs in New Mexico and Washington, D.C.

For students who need a program focus not available in Calvin’s own programs, she added, the off-campus programs office helps them find one that suits their needs.

Surprisingly, Monsma said, this extent of overseas study by Calvin College students mirrors those of other colleges across the country. 

She explained that a recent report on college students studying abroad suggests that a weak economy and post-9/11 fears did little to prevent students from leaving the U.S. to supplement their college experience. 

She said the overseas study numbers for 2001-2002 showed a 4.4 percent increase from the previous year.

Monsma said the statistics come from Open Doors 2003, the annual report on international education published by the Institute of International Education with funding from the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  (A complete report is available at

She said the Institute is the leading not-for-profit educational and cultural exchange organization in the United States.

IIE has conducted an annual statistical survey of foreign students in the United States since 1949, and has been collecting study abroad figures since 1986. A grant from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs underwrites the research and report.

Open Doors 2003 indicates that most students continue to study abroad for shorter sojourns (many for less than eight weeks), with more than half of U.S. undergraduates and master’s degree students electing summer, January term, internships and other short-term programs instead of academic year or semester programs.

Across the country the number of students going to study in less traditional destinations continues to grow. Among destination countries with the most dramatic increases were China and Japan.

In addition to study abroad, separate surveys are conducted to generate statistics on foreign scholars, and foreign students enrolled in pre-academic Intensive English Programs.           

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