Study abroad office eyes Latin America for expansion

As offers to partner with Latin American colleges pour in, GW’s study abroad office has targeted the booming region as its next area of growth.

Director of Study Abroad Rob Hallworth said GW will look to add more programs in countries like Brazil, – which boasts the world’s third-largest economy – as the country attempts to bolster the talent pool of its future workforce.

GW launched its first exchange program in the country this fall, sending one student to Rio De Janeiro and welcoming its first Brazilian student to GW. An additional 50 students have studied abroad in Brazil in the last four years through other programs.

The University is spreading its reach across the continent. It launched an international business program in Buenos Aires, Argentina, this fall, drawing about a dozen students. In the last four years, about 200 undergraduates have studied abroad in Argentina.

Study abroad adviser Lauren Beilin said GW’s Chile program, which drew eight students last fall, is less popular.

“Latin America is an attractive study abroad location for students willing to go further outside of their comfort zone,” Beilin said. “There are more opportunities in Latin America for students to immerse themselves in the local culture, since these programs tend to emphasize the importance of breaking out of the American bubble.”

Beilin added that most students who study abroad in Latin America live with host families, instead of dorms or apartments, which allows them to “engage on a deeper level with the local culture.”

The expansion comes as GW plans to pump between $5 and $15 million over the next decade into its study abroad program, according to the strategic plan draft released in October.

The increase in Brazilian exchanges, Hallworth said, stems from a measure passed by its government that handed out 75,000 scholarships for students to study abroad. Similar programs in Chile and El Salvador are slated to pass in the next several years.

“The Brazilian government made a large investment in trying to get kids into STEM fields,” Hallworth said.

Study abroad adviser Anna Levinger added that she pushes students to choose destinations outside of their comfort zones, which tend to include Western European countries.

“We certainly want to see students going to non-traditional places,” Levinger said.

Chronicle for Higher Education reporter Karin Fischer, who covers foreign education issues, compared Brazil to China five or 10 years ago because of its growing economic and global importance.

“Slowly, students are looking more and more at countries that seem like they have a growing importance in the world,” Fischer said.

She added that fallout from the 2008 financial downturn has prompted students to look closer at Latin American programs.

“When the economy is a little tighter, students and families take a closer look at Latin America,” Fischer said. “The countries are Spanish speaking [and] close to America, but cheaper than Spain.”

Nationally, about 15 percent of all undergraduate students who study abroad go to a Latin American country, according to a 2012 report compiled by the Institute of International Education.

Students have long traveled to the region through other companies, like IES Abroad. Senior Emily Russel spent time in Argentina with IES Abroad last spring semester. She lived with a widowed 70-year old, learning Spanish by spending time together and sharing meals every night.

“I wanted to learn Spanish, but I wanted to go somewhere new,” Russel said.

But she was disappointed that she was constantly surrounded by American students in her program. She said she opted to take an art course at a local university to meet more locals.

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