As part of her year abroad with SMU-in-Spain, junior Ashley Duncan has toured the ancient city of Toledo, the Alhambra palace of Granada and the Roman aqueducts of Segovia. In her home base of Madrid, she takes courses at the highly regarded Spanish institution La Fundación Ortega-Marañón and meets weekly at the Prado Museum for art history class. She wrote about her experiences on the SMU Adventures blog.

“It was so cool to see paintings that I’ve studied in school, like Velazquez’s Las Meninas,” says Duncan, who is majoring in Spanish and psychology in Dedman College. “And I could understand (almost) everything that our professor was telling us. It was such an awesome feeling to approach a painting and not understand it, then have it explained to me in Spanish and be able to understand what was going on. I felt so accomplished.”

With 148 programs in 50 countries, SMU Abroad is taking students more places than ever before. Students have opportunities for study, internships and service in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Oceania. Summer programs – including Bali, China, Germany, India, Italy, London, Moscow, Oxford and France – are led by SMU faculty and staff.

“Students, parents, business leaders and government officials increasingly recognize the value of developing international perspectives and skills,” says Michael Clarke, executive director of the International Center, which oversees education abroad and supports international students and scholars at SMU, among other services.

More than 600 SMU students go abroad each year on SMU-approved programs. For most programs, the cost of spending an academic year or semester abroad is similar to tuition, room and board on the Dallas campus. Students receive academic credit for their courses abroad if they participate in SMU-approved programs and have applied through SMU Abroad.

Below, SMU Abroad advisers offer answers to common questions from parents:

When should my student start thinking about education abroad?

Now! The earlier a student begins thinking about going abroad, the easier it will be to work into his or her degree plan. We recommend that students meet with their academic advisers early in their college career to determine which term to go abroad and which program best suits their needs, taking into consideration courses, country and language skills.

But it’s also not too late for juniors and seniors, who can determine with their advisers which degree requirements can be fulfilled abroad. Students receive SMU credits for the courses in our programs, and typically any scholarships and financial aid that would apply to a term on campus also apply to a term abroad.

How do I know whether my student is ready?

A student must have, first and foremost, a genuine interest in experiencing something different. Yes, it helps to know how to manage time and resources – and how to read a map ­– but it’s this desire for new experiences that helps a student handle challenges that may arise.

What are the benefits?

Going abroad not only changes the way students view the world, but also the way they view themselves and their culture at home. Personal growth is a staple of the experience. Education abroad also brings classroom lessons alive, from business courses in Southeast Asia to musical theater in South Africa to European politics in Copenhagen. These experiences make a student’s résumé competitive. More employers in every field are specifically seeking candidates with international skills.