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].

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