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Each year about 350 St. Mary’s College of Maryland students venture out across the seas to study at a foreign university.

They take courses, visit interesting sites, speak with locals and generally soak up the culture over a few weeks to a semester in a way that often changes their lives.

Naomi Garcia of Baltimore said she chose to study abroad for two semesters. Last fall she attended school in France and followed up with a trip to Argentina during the spring semester.

Garcia, who helped at a study-abroad fair on campus Wednesday, said her experiences overseas were invaluable.

“You’re part of a university,” she said. And while the classes she took were great, it was interacting with people and the places she lived that proved special, Garcia said.

She said a lot of students at the fair asked her about the types of culture they would be exposed to, including music. Garcia said she took her guitar with her to Argentina and was able to meet people that way.

“I did a lot of street playing, which was a really cool experience,” the senior said.

She said the experience did change her personality, making her more ready to take on challenges in life.

“It changes you as a person, in a really good way,” Garcia said.

Mandy Reinig, director of international education, said about 55 percent of students graduating from St. Mary’s College participate in one of the college’s 17 study abroad programs. Several students each year will participate in a program not directly affiliated with St. Mary’s College.

Students piled into a meeting room Wednesday to get information about the various opportunities to study abroad.

While past sessions were popular, the number of students was overwhelming compared to previous years, Reinig said. “They were waiting at the door this time,” she said. Popular countries to visit lately include Australia, England and the college’s newest program that sends students to Ireland for a semester. The Ireland program is open to all majors, including the sciences, which sometimes have limited choices of where to study abroad, Reinig said.

Tom Howard was on hand to promote the partnership with James Cook University in Australia. He said the university, which is located near the Great Barrier Reef, is an instant draw for many students. “St. Mary’s does it well,” he said of the college’s international studies program.

College staff present opportunities, but are not pushy in what students choose to do, he said. “They seem to self-select in different programs,” based on prior interests, Howard said.

Sophomore Carson Fehner from Montgomery County said he was interested in the Oxford University program in England. He will probably go there next fall semester, although he is thinking about a few other programs in Europe. The history major said both of his older siblings who graduated recently from St. Mary’s also went to the Oxford program.

The Promoting Educational and Cultural Exchange, or PEACE, program with The University of The Gambia is another popular choice for St. Mary’s College students. Baboucarr Jallow from Gambia was on hand Wednesday as part of a visit to the United States and to promote the study abroad experience.

Traditionally students would chose to study abroad during their junior year of college. “Now, we’re trying to get them to go a little bit earlier,” Reinig said.

Class requirements are usually less strict as sophomores, she said. And they can draw on the study abroad experience for a longer time while at college.

The pricing structure depends on the program, she said. Sometimes, students pay their regular tuition, room and board for some programs and most everything else is covered. For other programs they may pay room or board, or neither, to the college and then cover their own expenses while abroad, Reinig said.

In all cases students have to pay for air fare, but there are scholarships available from the college to help cover that cost. Other opportunities include studying in China, Japan, Costa Rica, India, Peru, Italy, Thailand, Belize, Spain and France.