Earlier this year, Elmhurst College announced it had signed on as a partner in Generation Study Abroad, an ambitious national initiative to double the number of students who participate in study-abroad experiences each year.
By the end of this decade, the College plans not only to send twice as many students abroad as it does currently, but also to double the number of international students enrolling at Elmhurst, said Gail Gilbert, the College’s new associate director of international education. Gilbert, who came to Elmhurst in July from Marquette University, where she was assistant director in the international education office, is tasked with helping the College realize those objectives.
“It has become so important to have a global perspective, and studying abroad is one of the best ways to do that,” said Gilbert. “At the same time, bringing international students here increases the diversity of perspectives available on campus. It’s great to see the College supporting these initiatives, and I’m looking forward to being here to see the growth in our international programs.”
Gilbert added that College’s goals have as much to do with the quality of its international programs as the quantity of students enrolled.
“Some schools bring in more and more students from other countries, without doing enough to support them. But Elmhurst is doing this the right way,” Gilbert said. She pointed to two new positions the College is adding to the CPE to work on recruiting and supporting international students “We’re building an infrastructure that will make this an effective effort for students and for the College.”
In the 2013-14 school year, Elmhurst students studied in 30 different countries on six continents. Some spent a few weeks abroad, others an entire year. Many volunteered their talents and labor in hospitals, high schools and Habitat for Humanity housing sites in other countries. The Institute for International Education, which is leading the Generation Study Abroad initiative, said that the number of Americans studying abroad has grown 150 percent in the last decade. Nevertheless, only 10 percent of the 2.6 million students graduating from American colleges with baccalaureate or associate’s degrees each year study abroad.
Gilbert has experienced first-hand the transformative power of studying abroad. As a global management major at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she spent a semester studying in Spain and participated in a month-long interim-term course to the Bahamas. The experiences, she said, “changed my whole outlook. They gave me a huge sense of independence and I developed a real passion for study abroad.” Dropping her plans to pursue a position in the corporate world, she instead took a student post in the international office that turned into a full-time position after her graduation. She has been working in international education since.
In her first few months at Elmhurst, Gilbert has been impressed with the level of personal attention faculty and staff offer students. That focus on the individual often comes as a pleasant surprise to students newly arrived on campus from abroad, she said. Gilbert recalled telling a student from Spain she was advising that she had heard he had given an excellent presentation in one of his classes that morning.
“He thought it was great that people knew him and recognized his efforts,” she said. “We interact with students one on one and you get to know what’s going on with them. They appreciate that.”
That’s an advantage that Gilbert hopes more and more international students will be discovering in years to come.