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UVM Is: Why Kim Howard Wants More Students to Study Abroad

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Teaching in Japan was a life-changing experience for Kim Howard.

After graduating from University of California, Berkeley, she lived in Japan for two years to teach, which sparked her passion for international education.

These days, Howard is director of the Office of International Education at UVM. She is on a mission to encourage more students to study abroad.

We talked to Howard about the University’s goals for international education and why living abroad matters.

Why did you decide to live in Japan after graduating from college?

I wanted to study abroad when I was in college, but I did not out of a combination of a little bit of fear of the unknown, and because I had good jobs during the academic year that paid for my room and board.

I wanted to go abroad because I knew that going to a country where I did not speak the language or know the culture. Going where I would be thousands of miles away from home would pull the rug out from under me. It would force me to learn and grow in ways that I had not going to school in California, so close to home.

How would you describe living abroad for the first time?

I cried a lot of my first six months living in Japan. Those two years fundamentally altered how I saw myself, and how I saw Japan, and in turn the rest of the world. I want UVM students to have that same opportunity to grow and build their understanding and empathy of others’ experiences.

What initiatives are taking place to encourage more UVM students to study abroad?

UVM is engaged in Generation Study Abroad, an initiative of the Institute of International Education (IIE). IIE is aiming to double the number of U.S. students with overseas education experiences within a five-year period, and diversify who is going abroad.

UVM specifically is seeking to grow our annual number of students abroad from roughly 700 to 1,000 for semester-long study abroad, short courses, internships, research—basically, any experiences where there are clear learning objectives, whether for credit or not.

What percentage of UVM students study abroad? Are you working to increase that number?

About 27 percent. We are seeking to grow that number through partnerships with UVM academic units and other administrative offices, increased advertising and workshops addressing barriers, such as finances, which could get in the way.

How have you helped enhance UVM’s international student population?

The most significant UVM initiative that has grown the overall international student population is the Global Gateway Program, a partnership between UVM and Study Group, a private company. This initiative is not run out of our office, though we actively support the initiative. Over the last nine years, our office has expanded social and educational student programming and partnerships with campus offices to provide an outstanding international student experience.

UVM is home to more than 900 international students from more than 60 countries. What is the current percentage of international student enrollment at UVM?

The percentage of the matriculated undergraduate population that was international is 5.5 percent for Fall 2017. The percentage of the graduate population that was international stands at 6 percent at the master’s level and 14 percent at the doctoral level. Beyond these students, we have non-degree students in the Global Gateway Program, and exchange students who are studying abroad at UVM for one semester or one year. Overall, roughly 6.5 percent of our total student population is international.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Knowing that the work we do helps facilitate significant personal growth and builds understanding among people from around the world.

And the most challenging?

Translating to my campus colleagues the sometimes difficult-to-explain restrictions the U.S. government places on our students, employees, and visiting scholars with immigration regulations that don’t always make logical sense.

How do UVM students inspire you?

I am routinely amazed at the risks our students are taking at an age I certainly was not ready to do so. It is remarkable to pack your bags and move someplace you’ve never been, and perhaps where the language spoken is not your native language, without your family at the age of 18 or 19. That’s impressive.

-Our “UVM Is” series celebrates University faculty, educators, and the campus community.

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