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Editorial: Expanding the study abroad options

Yesterday the Office of International Programs hosted a fair on Ruth Simmons Quadrangle to introduce students to study abroad opportunities for the upcoming year. With more than 300 pre-approved programs and more than 150 locations from which to choose, about 600 Brown students each year — the equivalent of approximately one-third of the junior class  —  spend a summer, semester or year in the country of their choice. With a seamless process that allows students to easily apply and transfer credits back to Brown, studying abroad can be an unmatched opportunity as a college student, not only to enrich one’s college experience academically-speaking, but also to enhance one’s personal development in new and unexpected ways.

Because of language barriers and the mandatory Satisfactory/No Credit policy, Brown students are unlikely to receive the same quality of academic education abroad as they get here. This is not to say that the University should not support language immersion or change the grading policy, but it should also encourage students to explore “non-traditional” study abroad programs. Certainly the conventional, if not stereotypical, experience of studying abroad in Western Europe is still valuable to students, particularly to those who have studied relevant languages, histories or arts. But the case can be made that more weight should be placed — by the University, students, and employers — on alternative means of global engagement, namely through non-academic activities such as working, volunteering, interning abroad or participating in a Global Independent Study Project (GLISP). To be sure, the University does offer pre-approved programs that incorporate these values, such as a program on the ecology and wildlife in Tanzania, and the onus may be on students to choose the less conventional path. But encouraging students to consider a broader set of values expands the opportunities beyond elite universities and opens the conversation to experiences most people will not have after college.

Unconventional study abroad programs, however, exacerbate a preexisting concern of science students regarding degree requirements. In March 2012, Kendall Brostuen, director of international programs and associate dean of the College, reported that over the previous two years only nine percent of students studying abroad were concentrating in the sciences. This disparity is due in part to language limitations, a greater number of requirements for science concentrations, stricter course credit policies and concerns about being unprepared for higher-level courses. Science departments and the Office of International Programs must clarify transfer policies and pre-approve courses to ease stress among students and help them understand that a semester away will not stop them from completing their degree. A solution might even include more interaction between students abroad and their Brown professors to supplement any gaps in the curriculum that could hold them back in their concentration programs.

While Brown’s open curriculum provides a unique educational scheme, it can be of great benefit to students to gain a global understanding through an immersive period abroad. Studying — or working, volunteering and interning —  abroad gives students a new perspective regarding their academic experiences at Brown. Upon returning to College Hill, students are able to reassess how they wish to spend their remaining undergraduate years, a decision likely influenced by time spent in a foreign country. There are a number of reasons students choose not to study abroad: participation in sports and clubs or the fact that an international student may already be abroad in Providence. But encouraging students to study abroad and expand the options for those who wish to go abroad should be an objective of the University.

 

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: Natasha Bluth ’15, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.



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