Editorial: U. should facilitate study abroad process

Monday, September 16, 2013

As the University weighs and looks to further its commitment to internationalization, the concept of studying abroad — and the way in which it is actually practiced at Brown — merits fresh scrutiny. Though opponents of studying abroad characterize programs as endless parties or continuous field trips, the truth remains that the chance to study in a foreign country offers valuable lessons about independence, diversity and cultural sensitivity. Nearly 600 students study abroad each year, and the University has approved 136 international programs in 47 countries. The administration clearly understands the value of studying abroad and seems to realize it is an option all students should have a chance to pursue. But this realization is insufficient: The University should work to better facilitate the study abroad process and make it more feasible for students to apply to international programs and receive transfer credit once back on campus.

Students understandably may express qualms about leaving Brown for a semester or even a year. Spending a semester’s tuition for an education from another university can seem unwise, or a semester away could arguably cause students to miss out on valuable experiences available on campus. To be certain, the cost of a Brown education is substantial, and financial constraints are a legitimate disincentive to studying abroad. But studying abroad does offer lessons that cannot be learned on Brown’s campus, and doing so can become an important part of the Brown education.

Studying abroad allows students to gain a better understanding of different places, peoples and cultures. It is one thing to engage in a classroom discussion at Brown with religiously, ethnically and culturally diverse students, but it is another thing entirely to live among a population foreign to one’s own. Studying international landmarks and events in a humanities class cannot be compared to witnessing those places in person and being among their history. Students who study abroad often return to Brown with a nuanced and fresh view into diverse cultures and traditions.

But despite the value of studying abroad, the University does not do enough to make doing so easy and accessible. Given the lessons one amasses from studying abroad, both academic and otherwise, the University should attempt to facilitate the process for students. Understandably, certain pre-professional tracks such as engineering and pre-med have rigorous curricula that are difficult to wed to a study abroad experience. Still, advisers should prioritize helping students identify the strongest international programs to fit their academic interests and needs.

In addition, while gaining study abroad approval for most Brown-approved programs is simple, the post-abroad approval process should be simplified and fine-tuned to make it easier to receive credit. Currently, students wishing to receive transfer credit must go though the time-consuming and difficult process of receiving signatures from faculty members in many academic departments. The process could be easily simplified if each student’s personal concentration adviser were responsible for signing off on post-study abroad credit.

With the University making a push to expand its international presence, administrators must enhance and facilitate the procedures behind studying abroad. These programs give students valuable resources to further their liberal educations in diverse, challenging new settings. To hinder students from pursuing this option is a shame and contradictory to the educational spirit that defines Brown.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Rachel Occhiogrosso, and its members, Daniel Jeon, Hannah Loewentheil and Thomas Nath. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.