U-M ranks among leaders nationwide for students studying abroad

November 13, 2023
Emmanuel Orozco Castellanos and peers. Image courtesy: Emmanuel Orozco Castellanos
Emmanuel Orozco Castellanos and peers. Image courtesy: Emmanuel Orozco Castellanos

The University of Michigan ranks in the Top 10 among U.S. higher education institutions with the most students studying abroad and No. 2 among Big Ten universities, according to a new report.

U-M had 2,007 U.S. students earning credit in education-abroad programs in 2021-22—the most recent academic year with complete data—based on the annual Open Doors report by the Institute of International Education, a New York-based nonprofit.

Commissioned by the U.S. State Department, Open Doors is a complete census of education abroad in the United States. Still, the report does not provide a total count of U-M students who have gone overseas: It does not include students who are not U.S. citizens and those who go abroad for noncredit educational experiences.

Adding these students to the total education-abroad tally, U-M had 2,906 overseas travelers in 2021-22—899 more students (noncitizens and noncredit travelers) than were included in the Open Doors report. These students participated in 3,097 trips, indicating that some of them engaged in more than one international experience.

“While this travel volume accounts for just more than half of pre-pandemic levels at U-M when 5,640 students had an education abroad experience in 2018-2019, it represents a remarkable recovery from the height of the pandemic,” said Valeria Bertacco, U-M vice provost for engaged learning.

“Applications for 2023 suggest an even stronger rebound is on the horizon. This remarkable recovery is a testament to the dedication and resilience of faculty and staff across campus who make these opportunities for students possible. We are confident that these experiences will equip students with skills for positively changing the world.”

U-M students traveled to 113 countries in 2021-22, with the top three destinations being Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.

U-M graduate student Emmanuel Orozco Castellanos remembers vividly the morning he landed in Geneva for his study abroad experience in winter 2022. After several cancellations and postponements due to the COVID pandemic, he was—indeed—in Switzerland.

“I got out of the plane, went to pick up my luggage and saw a huge screen saying, ‘Welcome to Geneva, the capital of diplomacy,” he said. “I’m an international scientist and looking at that sign just hit me. It was no longer a dream. I was there.”

Emmanuel Orozco Castellanos
Emmanuel Orozco Castellanos

A first-generation student, Orozco Castellanos, planned to do a summer program abroad in his junior year.

“It was 2020, and my program got canceled,” he said. “I then applied for a different study abroad opportunity, worked on all the paperwork, documentation and visa, and it got canceled again. I almost gave up but decided to try a third and last time for a winter trip. I didn’t have another summer and really wanted to have this experience.”

This time, it worked. Orozco Castellanos spent the winter semester exploring the human rights field in the International Studies and Multilateral Diplomacy Program in Geneva.

The program is tailored to advance the participant’s knowledge of critical global issues such as health, migration, social change, human rights and sustainable development, among others. It included on-site visits to some of the most influential international human rights organizations, such as the United Nations, World Health Organization, International Committee of the Red Cross and European Union in Brussels.

“My time in Switzerland has been one of my most meaningful academic career experiences,” Orozco Castellanos said. “I gained direct exposure to international affairs in a way that I would have never been able to experience anywhere else. The research paper I produced was eventually published and it helped me land an internship in international human rights in D.C. over the summer.

“All in all, studying in Geneva was a truly unique, hands-on learning experience that allowed me to contemplate how vast and impactful the field of human rights is.”

Looking to the future

Led by Bertacco, U-M’s international education community engaged in strategic visioning about the future of education abroad during the 2022-23 academic year. The team developed four initiatives to promote early awareness of opportunities, diversify student participation and experience types, and support pre-departure and post-experience students.

“We are thrilled to kick off these new initiatives, such as the Global Engagement Passport Day, which will be opening doors to the world to 200 U-M students by providing them with a passport and the First-Gen Education Abroad Scholarship, which increases access to education abroad experiences,” said Amy Carey, assistant vice provost for international engagement.

“We will also launch additional programs, such as grants for new faculty-led programs, faculty and staff workshops, student workshops and grants, and a media campaign. We hope these initiatives will help increase and diversify participation in education abroad on our campus.”

Brittany Puller (center) studying in India. Image courtesy: Brittany Puller
Brittany Puller (center) studying in India. Image courtesy: Brittany Puller

A research, two sites

Brittany Puller, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, traveled to two countries during the last academic year. She started her research on caste, kinship and community in England in fall 2021 and continued in India in spring 2022.

Brittany Puller
Brittany Puller

“It was a big shift to move from England to India, but I absolutely loved it,” she said. “During my time in London, I researched at the British Library, and in India, I conducted ethnographic and archival fieldwork throughout Punjab and New Delhi.

Traveling across the world came with challenges. Puller’s research was delayed in both countries. She got COVID right before her flight to London, which led her to return home, and India banned international travelers and scholars until 2022, pushing back her timing further.

Despite the delays, Puller strongly recommends traveling abroad to other students, particularly undergraduates.

“In London, I truly enjoyed being in a city with everything at my fingertips,” she said. “And in India, spending a lot of time in small towns and rural areas encouraged me to slow my pace and enjoy each moment to the fullest. I met so many wonderful people along the way, making friendships that will last a lifetime.”