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Save me from study abroad

| Forum Editor

The search for a study abroad program is a difficult process, a process that Wash. U. doesn’t make any easier. In the last five months I have spent countless hours and immeasurable effort researching possible study abroad opportunities. And less than one month before abroad applications for the spring of 2011 are due, I’m still without any concrete plan.

While the last five months of research may not have resulted in the happy study abroad ending I would have imagined, I have gained a significant amount of insight into the complicated web that is the study abroad system at Wash. U. The department’s lack of transparency contributes to much difficulty in navigating the abroad programs, applications and petitions.

The Overseas Programs Web site says, “The goal of international study through the College of Arts & Sciences is to encourage our students to acquire the broad cultural knowledge, the languages and the practical skills to enable them to participate fully in a global society.”

That’s what they’ll tell you. Here’s what they won’t:

Study abroad programs make money for Wash. U. When a student travels abroad through a different program, regardless if that program is better suited for the student’s academic goals or better caters to their career aspirations, Wash. U. loses money. This money is undoubtedly high on our school’s priority list.

Is applying to study abroad through Wash. U. overly complicated?

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Unlike Wash. U.’s May 1 application deadline for study abroad, most reputable universities that sponsor study abroad programs have deadlines for the spring semester that reach far into the summer months. Why does this discrepancy exist? Why does Wash. U. force its students to make decisions almost one year before they are traveling abroad?

When students are forced to make decisions by May 1, application to other outside programs becomes nearly impossible. Students can’t make other plans and have any kind of safety net and therefore won’t know if they are accepted before the Wash. U. abroad deadline. The other (cheaper) options are no longer options.

There is no one person at Wash. U. that carries all of the study abroad information. Every adviser, department chair or professor that you speak to will undoubtedly direct you to another adviser, department chair or professor (generally one with an unknown name and job title). You will then be told to find information elsewhere.

A typical day seeking study abroad info might take you from the Overseas office at McMillan to Brookings for a visit with your four-year adviser, to your department’s study abroad advisor, back to McMillan, and then to the library to browse for more information that can best be found online. You may still be confused, frustrated and lacking a legitimate plan.

I don’t mean to insinuate that the study abroad experience isn’t an easy one for anyone. I am sure there is someone out there who chose their program and location quickly and, with little stress, was on their way to an amazing experience. And, it will be an amazing experience. At least that’s what I tell myself as I plan every detail of my future coursework, document my past experience, track down professors for letters of recommendation, fill out paperwork, approve courses, meet with yet another study abroad adviser, bombard my own advisors with questions, take a placement exam for the language class I am required to take in the fall (even though my program of choice is taught in English) and rearrange my majors and minor—all for a petition to study abroad through a reputable program, all for the amazing experience.

Alissa is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

  • Studying Abroad

    Sorry, but this column screams laziness–either that or they’ve made MONUMENTAL changes to everything in the past year. Granted, if your intention is to study someplace obscure where WashU doesn’t have a program, then perhaps that’s different, but just about everything else in here doesn’t ring true as someone who not only had to turn in an application by February 1st, but also found out last July that my program had Visa issues and I’d have to do a different one.

    You say there’s no one person with all the info…true, there are 2. Figure out who in the Study Abroad office deals with the program you’re interested in, and who in your major department handles Study Abroad matters–it’s not that hard. The former can give you plenty of information on your program (both written and oral), while the latter will go over a Study Plan that shows you how much and what kind of credit you’ll get for your program.

    Believe me, I’ve got plenty of issues with the program, but they deal more with the credit and the fact that those who allot it have never seen just how much work is necessary. But otherwise, you just have to take the initiative. I researched all potential programs online (not just on the Overseas Program’s website, but the university ones as well), and came up with questions I wanted answered (which I got answered by my Study Abroad Adviser). This whole mechanism is nowhere near the Rube Goldberg machine this article makes it out to be.

  • Hi Alissa,

    Wow, thanks for sharing all the trouble you experienced. I don’t know much about Washington University, but this topic is one that interests me. There are study-abroad-friendly universities and then there are those that are not so friendly.

    I’m a Director of Study Abroad and Author of Study Abroad 101 (one of the most popular study abroad guidebooks for students). In that book, there’s one chapter where I speak to pre-college students about how to select the right university for study abroad. I also posted this information online:

    On a second note, we have developed a free tool for study abroad offices…a searchable online directory of their programs. The unique feature about this directory it also allows students to leave ratings and reviews, and it links to appropriate scholarships. Information on this free tool can be found here:

    Hope this is helpful and I hope you can find the right program your study abroad experience.