This academic year, approximately 30 Mercy students will study in places as far away as France and China. Thanks to Mercy’s Center for Global Engagement — which is led by director Dr. Sheila Gersh — students can spend a semester studying abroad in 27 different locations across the world, including Austria, South Korea, Japan and Australia. There are also shorter-term study abroad programs in the summer and winter sessions.
Mercy School of Business student Janet Buenrostro Ramirez studied abroad in Paris this semester: “When I think of my time in Paris, I think of my afternoons near the Eiffel Tower where people sit to have a picnic or a glass of wine, talk and enjoy the view. I did this three or four times a week, and every time, I thought, ‘Wow, I'm in Paris.’”
Students take approved classes when studying abroad and earn credits that apply toward their degree program at Mercy. In some cases, students study in a foreign language, while in other cases, students take courses in English regardless of the country's native language. Buenrostro Ramirez, for example, took a French class, but she also studied business statistics in English — a course that counts toward her major in international business— and impressionist art in English.
Some of the most significant learning happens outside the classroom simply because students are living abroad — learning about a new culture, negotiating new places and building relationships with new people. Gersh makes sure that students understand they are part of something bigger when abroad: “They’re not just a Mercy student anymore. They’re representing their university and their country. They’re sharing their culture and way of life.”
The experience is always life-changing. That is how Darielis Cruz — a Mercy School of Business undergraduate in the Business Honors program — describes her time in South Korea: “I cannot stress how important it is to study abroad. For me, it was always a personal goal to be somewhere my family has never been. I thought, if I can do this, I can do anything. It gives you so much energy and drive. There’s a sense of power within you when you know that you can live in another country.”
Cruz explains that she chose South Korea precisely because it was the last place she wanted to go: “I wanted to be 100 percent out of my comfort zone. I wanted to put myself out there and do it right. A totally different language. A totally different culture. … When I got to Korea, I felt like a little kid with completely fresh eyes, and I wanted to experience everything.” She spent eight hours per week meeting with Korean students at her university to help them practice their English and learn more about American and Dominican culture. She also made lifelong friends in her three Korean roommates who welcomed her like a sister.
“I came back a completely different person in every way,” Cruz reflects. “I’ve become so much more aware of myself and how I’m perceived by other people. Language barriers taught me to stop talking and truly listen and pay attention. I learned to love being in uncomfortable situations because that is the only way I will learn.” She still practices her Korean language skills every day and plans to return to Korea next year — “with an empty suitcase,” she laughs before gushing about South Korean fashion.
Almost all students who decide to study abroad do so as undergraduates. Gersh recommends that students study abroad in their sophomore or junior year in order to ensure that international transcripts arrive in time for graduation. Graduate students are technically eligible to study abroad, but because most of them work full time, they do not usually take advantage of Mercy’s study abroad program.
A few weeks before students leave to study abroad, Gersh leads a pre-departure orientation. She explains to students that classes abroad are often large lecture classes, not like the smaller, more interactive classes at Mercy. She tells them to expect to feel a certain amount of culture shock, though she has only ever encountered one student who experienced culture shock to the point of wanting to return home; thankfully, it dissipated rapidly. Because of particular concerns for student safety, every Friday Mercy students abroad check in with Gersh on WhatsApp, noting if they plan to travel that weekend and where. Mercy also recently purchased a tool called KeynectUp to provide all students with emergency phone numbers in the country they are studying in, and all students have health insurance and accident coverage when abroad.
Buenrostro Ramirez urges all Mercy students to consider studying abroad. “Growing up, I never thought I’d have the opportunity [to live abroad] until I was established in my career. But Mercy has really allowed students to travel the world affordably — you don’t even have to pay extra tuition. So there’s nothing to stop any Mercy student from seeing the world.”