Nursing students abroad face obstacles and opportunities

Ashley Huizinga-Staff Writer

Earning a nursing degree is notoriously time-consuming and rigidly scheduled. Because of this reality, you might think nurses couldn’t possibly leave campus for a period of 4 months during the school year and still graduate on time. Contrary to what you might believe, though, nurses can study abroad.

Senior Esther Kielstra knew she wanted to study abroad even before choosing the nursing path.

“I love to travel. But [asking which came first, nursing or study abroad,] is a trick question because I’ve always wanted to be a nurse,” Kielstra said.

For better or worse, Studies Program in Contemporary Europe (SPICE) was the only option presented to Kielstra.

“[SPICE] was the only study abroad program that I’m aware of that allowed nurses to attend,” says Kielstra. The lack of programs available for future nurses is most likely due to the fairly inflexible schedule presented to nurses their freshman year. Of course, the schedule doesn’t usually need to be flexible. But for Kielstra, who decided in her sophomore year to pursue a study abroad program, choosing late caused her to run into scheduling conflicts right away.

“I chose too late…It’d be best to decide freshman year so you can plan your Core courses around it. But I’m still able to work around it out here, to get all my classes done.”

Senior Matt Boer noted he also always wanted to study abroad, even before he switched to the nursing program his freshman year.

Boer also dealt with scheduling issues as a sophomore nurse trying to study abroad, although his situation was a little different.

“I had a little difficulty making sure I could fit in all my courses,” Boer said. “My 4-year plan was a bit different from most other nursing majors; I took some Dordt nursing courses while I also took St. Luke’s courses. I also took some online classes during the summer. So, if I had started off as a nursing major, I wouldn’t have had those issues.”

Boer also planned on SPICE early, although he changed his degree once.

“I have always wanted to do SPICE, even before I became a nursing major,” he said. “My sister-in-law was on this program a few years ago and told me about the program and how much she loved it, so I decided I wanted to do it, too. Before I was a nursing major, I was education and was just planning on doing the general track SPICE offered. But, I switched to nursing. Thankfully, SPICE offers the nursing track so my plans on going didn’t change too much.”

There are benefits to studying abroad as a nursing major.

“The pros of the SPICE nursing track,” Boer said, “would be gaining unique insight into health care outside of the states, interacting with Dutch students in a research class and experiencing Dutch lifestyles by visiting various patients and their homes.”

However, both students noted cons, as well.

“Honestly, I don’t feel like there’s that much academic benefit here to a nursing major,” said Kielstra. “Yes, you experience the healthcare system and open your eyes to how things can be applied differently than back home, but at this moment in time I don’t see how it’s very applicable… SPICE has more personal than professional benefit.”

“One con about this program involves time and scheduling,” Boer said. The nursing students did not receive their clinical schedule until almost halfway through the semester. Their track is also different than most SPICE students, as they take most of their classes online through Dordt while abroad.

“Since we only take just a couple classes at Viaa, we don’t interact with the other SPICE students as much,” Boer said. “So it’s up to you to take initiative to be spend time with the other students. We usually did this by just doing our Dordt classes at Viaa, since everyone else was there anyway.”

In addition, Kielstra, who is a student from Canada, also noted that she found it worthwhile to study abroad even though, technically, attending Dordt already qualified as studying abroad for her.

“Registering for SPICE as an international—no big deal,” she said. “But planning life afterwards –because I’m a senior—made things difficult. I think any stress from planning has more to do with your year than where you’re coming from. If you’re international, it’s just more paperwork.”

Nursing students not only can study abroad, but, according to both Boer and Kielstra, they should.

“I would definitely do it again,” said Boer. “I would recommend going abroad for every student, but especially nursing students. We spend two years at St Luke’s; in and out of the same hospital. So being able to go out and see something different is amazing. You get to learn about the differences in the health care system and practice of the nurses. You gain valuable knowledge and life experience from the patients you see. It is an unforgettable experience.”

When asked if she’d recommend other potential nurses to study abroad, Kielstra answered with a resounding “Yes,” but with some conditions.

“If I was in college a year again and could study abroad again, I’d do it,” Kielstra said. “But I’d think a lot about what I needed to complete before coming—but that’s being a senior, not a nursing major. And if more [study abroad] options were open to nurses, I’d suggest going on any of them.”

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