Study abroad is often a much anticipated staple of students’ academic careers at the College. According to Associate Dean Laura McKeon, who deals primarily with study abroad students, the number of students who choose to study abroad has been on the increase for years, with this increase punctuated only by the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Despite the implementation of a $1500 study abroad fee this fall, students continue to seek educational opportunities overseas. This fall 182 students are studying abroad, 41 more than studied abroad last fall.
McKeon noted that this trend is “impressive.” She said that at the institutions similar to the College, including Amherst, study abroad numbers are down, mainly due to the dampened economic climate.
“We’re not as affected by a faltering economy as a school that is not as generous in their financial aid policy,” McKeon said. She added that, unlike other schools, the College does not charge students tuition when they study abroad. “Generally speaking, total tuition [abroad] and fees, et cetera, are less than the total at Williams,” McKeon said. “The greater expense comes in with the extras: travel, eating out, theater, galleries, museums. All those things you wouldn’t want to pay for here, you suddenly want to pay for when you’re elsewhere.”
Trends in study abroad
McKeon said that most recently, she has seen an increase in students studying abroad in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Syria.
“[Study abroad choices] are still dominated by Western Europe, but there are more and more students going to the developing world, including the Middle East, South Asia and Africa,” McKeon said. “There’s more and more interest in the Middle East. That’s been a steadily growing field for study away.”
She cited students “wanting to be more educated about the world, especially the Middle East” as reason for the increase and noted that this increase parallels an increase in students taking Arabic. McKeon also said that many Arabic Studies students take advantage of study away opportunities in the Middle East.
She said that regardless of where students go, they typically are able to earn relevant course credits.
“I think that almost everyone who studies abroad here gets credit in their major,” McKeon said. She explained that even students not majoring in languages or specific cultural programs can find classes abroad that apply to their path of study; for example, an English major abroad can earn credit for a literature course, or a philosophy major can obtain credit overseas for a philosophy course at another institution.
According to Paul Boyer, director of financial aid, 80 financial aid students are studying abroad this fall and 87 studied abroad during the spring of 2010. Fifty-eight students are slated to study abroad in the spring, but Boyer noted that this number is increasing daily as students continue to be accepted into programs. “We expect the spring number to be in a similar ballpark to the previous two semesters,” he said.
Boyer said that financial aid students must submit a comprehensive cost of attendance budget for their study away programs. “Need is measured in the same way as if they are at Williams,” he said. “Cost less the determined family contribution equals need. Aided students receive Williams scholarship up to the cost of a semester at Williams.”
If the cost to attend the study away program is greater than the cost of a semester at Williams, “the student is given the option to borrow the difference – up to the maximum federal student loan amounts available,” Boyer said.
Boyer noted that if the cost of a study away program is less than a semester at the College, the scholarship the College provides is less. Additionally, when financial aid students lose their opportunity for campus employment by studying away, “they can make up the job component of their aid package with a student loan. Their need continues to be fully met,” Boyer said.
According to Provost Bill Lenhart, “the [$1500] study away fee is intended to help cover costs for the staff responsible for overseeing the program, the expenses related to monitoring and visiting the study away programs and the costs associated with advertising and informing the students about the programs.”
Lenhart said that the fees collected this fall totaled approximately approximately $117,000.
Liz Hecht ’13 is looking into the College’s Oxford program as well as other options including a program in Copenhagen, which she described as “a place I probably wouldn’t get to see otherwise” and a Jewish Studies program in Prague. “I knew when I was looking at colleges that [study abroad] was something I would want to do,” she said. Hecht said that in particular, Oxford’s joint history-English program is attractive.
“There are things about studying abroad that can supplement your education in ways that Williams can’t,” Hecht said, though she admitted that choosing to study abroad over taking advantage of courses at the College was “not the easiest choice, because there are so many classes here that I want to take.”
Pam Summers ’12 wants to study abroad in an English-speaking location. Summers plans on enrolling in a program with the Danish International School’s psychology program in child development.
“I wanted to pick somewhere a little more different,” Summers said. “Australia and New Zealand are too far away and have inconveniently timed semesters, so that left Scandinavia.”
Shawn Curley ’11 studied abroad in Australia and said his time away changed his perspective on college life. “Australian [universities] don’t have sports teams, there aren’t really campus events,” he said. “There isn’t a strong sense of camaraderie between students of the same university. Considering all the pomp of Williams life and culture, this would seem like a bad thing, but it was so refreshing.”
Jordan Freking ’12, an American Studies major with a Latino Studies concentration, plans on studying abroad in Cuernavaca, Mexico this spring in a program called “Migration and Globalization: Engaging our Communities.”
“I’m going abroad this year because I guess, why not?” Freking said. He had applied to be a JA, but studying abroad was his close second in junior year options. Even though going abroad was not a first choice, Freking said he’s glad his situation worked out the way it did “because it’s nice to have a break from Williams. I get to do something in a completely different setting.” Although Freking has visited Mexico several times, he said he “wanted to see it in a way that wasn’t so tourist-y.”
Jess Harris ’11 was motivated by a similar outlook. She studied abroad in China last spring and summer after taking a ten-day trip to the country during high school. Harris began studying Chinese because it was not offered in her high school, and “it ended up being my major,” she said. “I think [going abroad is] the best way to learn a language, to really be immersed in it and forced to speak it.”
Harris described her junior year choice as “a pretty easy decision. I always wanted to go abroad for an extended period of time,” she said, citing summer programs as “just not long enough.”
According to Harris, her most meaningful experience abroad was “really just the connection that I made with my Chinese friends. The relationships really have had the biggest impact on me,” she said.
But according to Paisley Kang ’12, staying home does not mean losing out. “I didn’t really feel too strongly about any one place I wanted to go to,” Kang said. “I have the privilege of receiving an education at Williams, so I want to explore that as much as possible.”
Kang, who recently added a new major, said that even though she would be able to complete her major requirements and also study abroad, one advantage to not studying abroad is taking advantage of courses at the College.
“I just feel like the English department here is one of the best at any liberal arts college,” she said.
Kang added that at one point she had wanted to study abroad because many of her friends had planned to do so but found instead that life at the College has broadened her perspective. “You meet new people and focus on work, and it just stretches you,” she said.