Verbum Ultimum: Advancing Study Abroad

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 2/28/13 11:00pm

This past month has seen exciting and much-needed developments in expanding study-abroad opportunities. The new offerings include a film foreign study program in Los Angeles and a public policy seminar that concludes with a trip to India. However, the College has a long way to go if it seeks to bring its full array of study abroad options in line with student interests and expectations.

The film and media studies department and the Rockefeller Center are to be commended for their initiatives. The former will host a program in Los Angeles next winter ("Film FSP in Los Angeles to begin in 2014," Feb. 15), and the latter will run a new course this fall titled "Economic Reform in India" ("Rocky course to include international trip," Feb. 27). These developments will significantly benefit students the L.A. program will widen the range of off-campus study choices in a department with limited options, and the Rockefeller program represents creative use of the new December interim period.

These achievements should not obscure that many off-campus programs continue to be expensive and chronically oversubscribed. Many departments receive vastly more applications than they are equipped to deal with, while others do not have programs at all. Recent changes in transfer term policies have severely restricted study abroad experiences for many students, while some College-sponsored programs have very limited demand. This leads us to believe that the College does not simply need more opportunities to study abroad, but also different opportunities.

Interdisciplinary study abroad programs would be better able to meet demand than department-specific ones. For example, there could be a foreign study program to China that does not require students to take certain prerequisites. Instead, students could take courses designed for non-majors on international economics, Chinese politics and Chinese religions while living in Beijing or Shanghai. While such a program would require more staffing, it would allow more faculty to teach and research abroad. It could also accommodate more interested students, as a greater number of faculty would be present to oversee the experience.

Regardless of the exact details, there are great options for improvement through interdisciplinary study abroad programs. Currently, many students who wish to study abroad are constrained if they do not want to study a language in depth, if their program of interest is oversubscribed or if a department does not have a program. Studying abroad should broaden one's experiences and cultural awareness, which conflicts with the current options, all organized by discipline or by language.

While Dartmouth is currently at the forefront of undergraduate education, maintaining our reputation for academic excellence will require continuous innovation. Revamping the College's study abroad programs is a good a place to start.

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