Study Abroad opportunities should be accessible for all WC students

By Riley Dauber

Opinion Editor

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, many students are hoping to study abroad or attend school-sponsored experiential learning trips during their four years at Washington College.

But for some students, either because of financial concerns or physical disabilities, these hopes may not come to fruition.

One school-sponsored trip to Bermuda is hosted by Associate Professor and Chair of the Environmental Sciences department Dr. Rebecca Fox and Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Martin Connaughton. The trip is scheduled for May 29 to June 11, 2023 for students interested in biology and environmental science, regardless of major.

The application recognizes that the trip is physically intensive, and states that hiking and snorkeling are major components.

Sophomore Evan Merk, although initially interested in the trip, was concerned about the amount of physical activity the trip requires, as well as the trip’s cost.

According to Merk, both professors were up-front about the cost of the trip during an interest meeting in Oct. No financial aid or scholarships were available, unless a student is a member of the Cater Society for Junior Fellows.

When it comes to study abroad trips, students can apply for a multitude of scholarships, like the Gilman Award, to help pay for the cost of the trip. All students are able to apply for the award, which provides up to $5,000 for study abroad trips.

According to Associate Dean of International Education Dr. Rebeca Moreno, WC students pay their regular tuition while traveling, but they will need money for food and other excursions while studying in a different country.

However, this rule does not apply to short trips, like Bermuda, therefore creating financial concerns for some students.

Students with disabilities may also struggle with the physical activities and aspects of the trip.

“I struggle with really intense physical activity due to issues with my legs, and the idea is ‘you need to be in shape enough to do [the trip.]’ But for people who physically can’t get into that kind of shape, and in general for students who aren’t in that kind of shape…it just sucks to have that opportunity completely not be an option,” Merk said.

When it comes to the Bermuda trip, there are no other options presented for students who may struggle with the activities, but would still like to attend the trip and have the out-of-classroom experience.

“It is a physically rigorous trip. And [accessibility] is something I wouldn’t say that we have planned for. We haven’t planned the trip with the intention of making it accessible to everybody at the moment because of how it’s set up,” Dr. Fox said. “But if we were presented with a student who wanted to do the trip and had some sort of physical disability, we would be more than happy to work with that person.”

The fact that accessibility was not a major concern during the planning process means that some interested students will be left out of the trip, or may not even want to apply.

Dean of Student Achievement and Success Adam Lampman hosts trips to Cuba almost yearly, and mentioned alternative activities for students with lower mobility.

“In Cuba, we had somebody with low mobility, [so when] the rest of the group was walking to this particular activity, that person was taken there by taxi. And then when they arrived, the activity required mobility. So, then we found a bike taxi and that person was able to accompany us via bike taxi during the activity,” Dean Lampman said.

Lampman stressed the importance of considering students with disabilities, even if it has not been a problem in the past. He wants all students to have the opportunity to attend experiential trips outside of the classroom.

Merk agrees, focusing on the importance of field experiences in the STEM field.

“In general, for any major, but especially for STEM majors that are field research based, having those kinds of experiences is really important on an application for internships…jobs or grad school,” Merk said. “And it’s really just kind of inaccessible to some people.”

Issues of accessibility were also mentioned during the Nov. 7 talk with retired English professor Dr. Richard Gillin, who ran the Kiplin Hall trip to the United Kingdom before the pandemic. The trip focused on Romanticism and the poets of the time period, with many days dedicated to hiking excursions.

The trip is a great opportunity for English majors to see where many popular poets resided, and pair the landscape of the European countries with the readings. However, the physical activity aspects of the trip concerned some students at the talk, including Accessibility Chair and News Editor for The Elm junior Grace Apostol.

“I think it is an amazing opportunity for students across all bands of campus,” Apostol said. “Though, as someone who uses a cane, the hike intensiveness of it can be daunting and undoable. Making [the trip] less hike intensive, while still focusing on the learning aspects, could help those with physical disabilities.”

According to previous Elm coverage, Associate Professor of English Dr. Katherine Charles “will be conducting a seven-day Kiplin Hall trip in the summer of 2024, which will be open to all students to apply, including the graduating class of 2024.”

During the talk, Dr. Charles mentioned reserving one day for hiking and balancing the rest of the trip with in-class discussions and visits to local landmarks.

One hopes, with the decrease in hiking excursions, that the trip will consider students with disabilities and will provide alternative activities for those students.

The scholarships and financial assistance available hopefully mean that more students will be able to have these out-of-classroom experiences.

“No student should be denied an amazing experience because of a disability or fiscal standing. There are ways to work through and around that; we just need to open our eyes and find ways to accommodate,” Apostol said.

Dr. Moreno believes that all students should take advantage of the study abroad opportunities the school has to offer, and that working closely with a Global Education advisor can guarantee that the trip fits the needs of each individual student.

“These experiences are going to provide you with a different viewpoint…and you are going to learn and grow as an individual, as a student, as a human being, by exposing yourself to the world [and] to another culture,” Dr. Moreno said.

As for the Bermuda trip, although it does not currently offer alternative activities for students with low mobility or physical disabilities, both Dr. Connaughton and Dr. Fox believe these experiential learning opportunities are important for all students.

“Students who are unsure about these sorts of things and then go on the trip anyway, typically come home having had a remarkable experience,” Dr. Connaughton said.

Both professors are planning to address issues of accessibility for their field labs as well, recognizing that all students should have these experiences.

“All these activities should be available to everyone, whether you’re able-bodied or you have some sort of limitation…it’s important that you are able to do those experiences,” Dr. Fox said. “It should be for anybody who wants to do it. It should be something that we can all do.”

Photo courtesy of Katie Tack

Photo Caption: According to Associate Dean of International Education Dr. Rebeca Moreno, the Global Education Office is working to make their building more accessible by building a ramp, so all students are able to access the building for meetings with advisors.

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