Study Abroad Expansion May Benefit WC Students

By Alisha George

Expansion of study abroad programs to countries like China, India, and Russia, according to Director of International Programs Kelly Keer, is in the hands of faculty and students.

Currently, pursuing programs unaffiliated with WC proves difficult for students.

Kali Erstein ’09 said she was warned that because she was withdrawing from Washington College to attend a non-affiliated study abroad program in Russia, her academic tuition scholarship would be voided.

The Office of International Programs website said “Students participating in study abroad programs other than those [we offer] are required to withdraw from Washington College for the duration of the program. No financial aid will be processed or available for use toward program expenses. Eligibility for financial aid will be reassessed upon return to Washington College.”

Faculty Liaison to the Office of International Programs Professor Tahir Shad said most students can find the type of program they want out of the programs already offered, but sometimes students want to go into semester-long programs in programs not currently offered.

“We have over 35 semester-long programs, which is good for a school our size,” said Keer.

Shad does not agree with the current process of students having to leave WC and reapply for unaffiliated programs.

“I feel like there should be exceptions made for unique programs students want to pursue,” Shad said. “I feel that essentially we should make it a seamless process.”

Shad said all the few students he has known who did this were not getting financial aid or academic scholarships.

“We need to develop programs in Russia, China and India if we want to prepare students for the 21st century. Cultural, linguistic immersion in these countries will become strategically important to the U.S. in the future,” Shad said.

Director of Financial Aid Jeani Narcum explained why students who withdrawal to study abroad would lose their academic tuition scholarship.

“Students who receive academic tuition scholarships from WC are required to maintain continuous, full time enrollment in order to have their awards renewed,” she said. These conditions are stated in the award letter they receive at the time they are admitted to WC. If a student is thinking of withdrawing for any reason, we make sure they receive a copy of their original award letter and then review the conditions of their award. If they decide to go forward with the withdrawal, they are asked to sign the statement that they understand the conditions of their academic tuition scholarship and the effect of withdrawing.”

Erstein said WC offers very limited language courses and does not offer Russian, the language she wanted to study. She attended Middlebury’s Russian Language School in the summer of 2007 and spent her fall semester of junior year in St. Petersburg, Russia with the Council for International Education Exchange.

“Both of these programs cost a substantial amount of money and these financial burdens could have been avoided if WC’s language and study abroad programs branched out more than they do,” Erstein said.

Keer said WC used to have an exchange program with a university in St. Petersburg when the Russian language was taught at the college.

“It didn’t sustain itself, so it closed down,” Keer said.

Keer said that for more programs to develop, the other school would have to be academically strong and in an area where WC is comfortable sending students. There must be appropriate housing available from the school, and it would have to have an international office that provides support to students who are abroad.

Keer said since WC does not teach any of those languages, the school with which it would develop an exchange would also have to teach in English.

Keer said if a number of students are interested in programs in those countries or other places that WC does not offer programs, then they should speak to a member of faculty about creating those programs. She said as of now, there are no plans to create these programs for the future.

“When we develop a new program, it usually comes from a faculty member and their academic interest [in the program],” Keer said, since the Office of International Programs is under the Provost and Dean’s Office. The faculty member indicates there will be people interested in the program, she said.

Keer said the faculty member would visit the university to see what it is like, see if it is suitable and a good match for WC students, and also to see if WC can get students from there to come here in a bilateral exchange program.

“[The program] has to work or else it will be short lived,” Keer said.

“Given enough time and with the right plan and proposal, the study abroad office has been very creative with student’s academic needs,” said Narcum. “Kelly Keer and Yvette Beck work very hard at making sure that we have programs that meet the academic and cultural needs of our students. They also work very closely with the academic departments that require an off campus experience as part of the major. There is a great deal of work involved with setting up agreements with the partner schools- from both the import and export side.”

Shad said that another factor that may prevent students from going abroad, other than not having the program they are looking for and having to withdrawal from the school, is the $400 per semester off-campus study fee.

“For many students, that’s detrimental,” Shad said. He said compared to schools like Goucher, where students are given resources to study abroad, WC does the opposite. He suggested that WC lower the fee or eliminate it all together.

“We don’t have anything to do with the study fee. Most schools have a fee for off-campus study,” Keer said. She said the business office sets the fee and people who withdrawal from the school do not have to pay the fee.

Shad said even students who are required to study abroad for their major have to pay the fee.

As for developing more programs, Keer said, “It’s going to depend on faculty interest and finding an appropriate partner with appropriate resources.”

Shad said WC has great programs that are unique to WC, but what the school lacks is an endowment for those programs to make them more accessible to students who currently cannot afford them and so that faculty can go on side visits and get the campus more information about the programs.

“It is imperative in terms of globalization and America’s role in the world that students have experiences overseas,” Shad said.

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