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"Studying abroad is a powerful life experience"

If you are thinking about making the big decision of studying abroad, here are insights from a distinguished professor at University of Illinois Springfield that will help you understand why itís a great decision.

University of Illinois Springfield
Image credit: UIS

Dr. James P. Hall is the Associate Professor (Emeritus), of Management Information Systems at the University of Illinois Springfield. BrainGain Magazine asked him about the benefits of studying abroad, life at the university, and tips for international students.

Below are edited excerpts.

What are the benefits of studying abroad? Firstly, in terms of personal growth? And then in terms of academic/professional growth?

My short answer is that studying abroad opens your mind and expands your perspectives in ways which are very valuable in today’s increasingly global, rapidly changing world.  It is a powerful life experience. You gain confidence in your abilities to successfully navigate a new trajectory.  You also increase your fluency in another language and enhance your resume.

Regarding academics, studying abroad provides access to a network of teachers and fellow students who are knowledgeable and actively engaged in the current issues and practices in business, government, social and technology environments.  In my field of Management Information Systems (MIS), most of our graduate students in the United States are also working full time using a variety of technologies in a wide range of organizations.  Our classes incorporate frequent interactions between international and US students through topic discussions and group exercises to share knowledge and experiences
 

What does it mean for a student to come to UIS for higher studies?

In my experience, UIS emphasizes a student-centered educational experience where the professors know your name.  Classes are teaching-focused incorporating a wide variety of academic support services. Classes are relatively small with a 15:1 student-faculty ratio.  There are also internship and research opportunities.

UIS is a leader in using technology to enhance its distinctive learning environment and to extend that environment beyond the boundaries of the campus.  Our Management Information Systems program was an early leader in online learning, deploying an online option in 1999, and we have MIS graduate and undergraduate students throughout the United States, most of whom are working full time in technology and management capacities.  This student mix blends well with our on-campus International students.
 

In your experience, what value do international students bring to the campus?

The one characteristic of international students that stands out to me is their enthusiasm for learning.  International students are high energy and bring new and illuminating cultural and professional perspectives to class discussions. 

International students challenge current ways of thinking.  Technology adoption is a frequent topic in MIS courses and organizational and cultural issues are major factors.  International students interact well with our traditional students both on campus and online.

Personally, I have taught approximately over 500 international students in my on-campus classes and I have also taught a class abroad.  I always learn from my international students.  Their ideas continuously challenge me to think creatively and avoid stagnancy.
 

Why is the Global Experience Program a definitive element of the UIS student life?

Approximately 13% of University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) students are international incorporating both undergraduate and graduate students.  Many are Computer Science, Management Information Systems or Business majors.  We also have a strong public administration component.

University of Illinois Springfield
Image credit: UIS

UIS is a safe and welcoming campus located in Springfield, Illinois, the state capital.  UIS has an Office of International Student Services to help international students adapt to campus life and to address immigration regulations.  UIS also actively promotes study abroad and exchange programs for existing students.

Many of our international graduate students work part-time as graduate assistants or participate in Graduate Public Service Internships in the state government.  This is somewhat unique since we are located in the state Capital.  There are also applied study opportunities for undergraduates.
 

Do you think study abroad experiences are especially potent at a certain stage only, or can yield value at any stage of one’s academic career?

I am a believer in lifelong learning and study abroad experiences enhance learning at whatever stage you may be in your personal or academic career. It is never too late.

As an aside, I actively participate in activities of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academy of Sciences in the applications of information systems towards advancing transportation safety.  TRB has multiple international outreach activities.  This global sharing of knowledge is instrumental in advancing technological improvements towards the greater good. Your global learning can and should continue after your study abroad experience.
 

Any advice you’d like to share with international students?

My primary advice is that you should not to be intimidated in sharing your unique perspectives in class.  Your educational and cultural background, and your life skills, are relevant and valuable.   Speak up, we want to hear your viewpoint.  Be open to the experience.

Also, it is important you take early advantage of the available academic support resources.  For example, UIS has extensive online and on-campus research capabilities through our Brookens Library.  The UIS “Learning Hub” provides free academic support services to international students including peer tutoring programs, workshops and online resources. 

I recommend applying for student employment and internships and participating in campus activities.  However, do not extend yourself too far.  You do want to stay current with class activities.  There is a balance between school, work and leisure.  Enjoy the opportunities; but time management for course completion is critical. 

 

NOTE:  These answers represent the personal opinions of James Hall and do not represent the opinions of the University of Illinois Springfield.

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