Despite predictions that the Sept. 11 attacks and the war on terrorism would dampen student interest in studying abroad, the number of rising juniors planning to study abroad has increased by 40 from last year. The increase, which is roughly estimated by the number of pink petitions submitted by students, means that more than half of the class of 2004 will be abroad either in the spring, fall, or for the full year. Initially, many administrators predicted that students would be less likely to study in foreign countries because of possible retaliatory attacks against Americans. However, 276 pink petitions have been received, compared to 236 last year. A pink petition only indicates a student’s strong interest in studying abroad.
“Living in another culture really expands your mind,” said Olga Antonenko ’04, who is spending the spring in Scotland. “It’s just a faster way of learning various opinions and interacting with people that grew up in situations different from yours. It’s not that I don’t love it here, but I feel that studying away is an opportunity I won’t get in the future.”
Laura McKeon, assistant dean and director of international study, noted that Italy, Spain, Australia and the United Kingdom are among the most popular study abroad locations for students, while India, Nepal, Mongolia, Madagascar and Zanzibar are some of the more adventurous.
“Study abroad not only offers students
the chance to learn about another culture and another part of the world,” McKeon said, “it offers the possibility of intellectual expansion, exploration in many senses and adventure.”
Many students intending to study abroad noted that they hope to experience a lifestyle completely different from that at Williams. Furthermore, some felt that by junior year, they would need a “break” from Williams. Ephraim Dickinson ’04, who is considering studying abroad in Australia, said, “I would look forward to getting out of the small school dynamic and experiencing a large university for a little while.”
Ria Berns ’04 originally planned to attend the University of Montana’s forestry school, but has chosen instead to spend a semester in Mongolia. “I realized that I wanted to go study away somewhere completely different, somewhere that is not as easily accessible,” she said. After reading an article in National Geographic Magazine about Mongolia, Berns decided to go there on a program sponsored by the School for International Training (SIT), a popular study abroad program. “I have to say I am not that worried about safety issues,” Berns said. “The government is pretty stable, and other than possible health issues, I am not worried.”
“Experience-wise…” she says. “I
don’t see that it will be any different than if I went a year ago.”
Alix Banham ’04 is studying in Morocco next spring semester. Although she originally planned to study at the University of Edinburgh for the year, she changed her mind due to her major requirements and other reasons.
“I should go somewhere I’d never think of going otherwise,” she said. “I’m a dual national and can go to the UK for the rest of my life, but who knows if I’ll ever get the opportunity to immerse myself in Moroccan culture again?”
Banham is not concerned about living in Morocco. “I think for the most part people have been pretty alarmist about traveling, and if you conduct yourself responsibly and respect the culture you’ve chosen to immerse yourself in, there shouldn’t be any problems,” she said. She talked to a Williams student who had been in Morocco this past fall, who noted how supportive and caring the people were, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks. “She said the reaction she got from Moroccans was amazing. People came up to her in the street and told her how sorry they were.”
Taylor Stapleton ’04 is going to India
for the fall semester. She is planning on studying Indian art in Jaipur, a city in northern India. “A lot of the art classes here are more Western-oriented,” she said. She is also excited about the opportunity to get to know a different tradition and culture. “I want to know what it feels like to be the minority in a place,” she said. “I think there are safety concerns in a lot of places, but I trust the dean and the program.”
For some students, recent events have affected their study abroad plans. Casey Czubay ’04, who is studying in Spain for the spring, said, “I definitely would have been more seriously considering study abroad in South America, specifically Argentina and Colombia, if the economic and political situations were more stable in these regions.” Still, she is excited for “the opportunity [studying abroad] affords to become intimately knowledgeable about a foreign culture.”
McKeon said that she does “advise students not to study abroad in countries where there is political unrest or instability.” She also advises students against studying abroad in countries such as Israel, where there is a U.S. state department warning against travel (the full list is available at http://travel.state.gov/warnings_list.html).
Still, McKeon is positive about next year’s study abroad programs and sees studying abroad as an advantageous step towards a peaceful future. “I would like to think that students value now more than ever the importance of a global awareness and an international perspective,” she said. “I truly believe that international educational exchanges increase the chance that nations will learn to live in peace and friendship.”