Miller: Abroad, but Close to Home

by Eliana Miller | 10/25/16 12:16am

Dartmouth is known for its off-campus opportunities. We have over 40 Foreign Study Programs and Language Study Abroad opportunities that allow students to travel the globe, from Lima to Tokyo to Berlin. Students make use of these programs, with more than 50 percent of undergraduates participating in an FSP or LSA. One off-campus program is overlooked, however: the Twelve College Exchange.

I stumbled upon the Exchange at the beginning of the term and have been asking around about it ever since. Through the Twelve College Exchange, Dartmouth students have the opportunity to easily transfer for a semester and study at another Northeastern college. The Frank J. Guarini Institute for International Education website gives only a brief description of the program and a list of the colleges that participate: Amherst College, Bowdoin College, Connecticut College, Mount Holyoke College, the National Theater Institute, Smith College, Trinity College, Vassar College, Wellesley College, Wheaton College, William College’s Williams-Mystic program and Wesleyan University.

Joyce Kenison, program/exchange coordinator for the Frank J. Guarini Institute for International Education, explained that the program has fallen off the map in recent years. Typically, more students in the program come to Dartmouth than leave Dartmouth, due to the College’s prestigious academic strength. Students at smaller schools can even make use of the Thayer School of Engineering’s dual-degree program or take courses at the Tuck School of Business. But these smaller institutions have much to offer as well, and Dartmouth students miss out by not participating in the Twelve College Exchange.

While it may seem like Dartmouth can provide everything one needs and more, we overlook many opportunities and experiences nearby. Despite being able to choose from over 2,000 classes at Dartmouth, the College does not offer certain fields of study and specialized classes that are absent from our curriculum. For example, through the exchange, theater majors can hone their skills at the National Theater Institute, those interested in marine biology can attend Bowdoin’s Coastal Studies Center and future film directors can participate in Wesleyan’s film studies program.

Katie Billings ’16 studied for a term at Bowdoin College in Maine. A clinical psychology major, Billings said she wanted to take more behavioral science courses, as Dartmouth’s social psychology department leans heavily towards the neuroscience field. At Bowdoin, Billings was able to work with Barbara Held, a leading clinical psychologist, while also seeing firsthand how the department stacked up against Dartmouth’s. She described the experience as invaluable.

Dartmouth is one institution among hundreds in the United States, and gaining a wider breadth of knowledge on a subject facilitates career decisions down the road. Connecting with new professors and other colleges can also lead to new research and mentoring opportunities for undergraduates.

Dartmouth students can look to the Twelve College Exchange as a chance to further their studies in a given area of focus while also experiencing a new social environment. Three of the participating schools — Wellesley, Mount-Holyoke and Smith — are all-female colleges. Many of the other schools are Greek-life free, including Amherst and Vassar. And most of the colleges are smaller than Dartmouth, providing students with a more intimate educational setting.

Besides offering new courses and a new environment, the Twelve College Exchange is one of the only opportunities for Dartmouth students to escape the College completely. FSPs and LSAs are taught by Dartmouth faculty, and, for better or for worse, they simply transplant and move the College to a foreign country. The Exchange does not involve any Dartmouth faculty, and instead allows undergraduates to have an entirely new community with new professors, students and courses. Dartmouth is the only participating school on a quarter system, which means that exchange students are able to experience a semester system. Students can take more classes than they would during a term at Dartmouth and can engage with these courses for a longer period of time. Through the semester system, a student typically takes four courses over a 15 week period instead of three courses over a 10 week period.

Of course, the Exchange is not for everyone. Athletes bound by sports commitments will find it difficult to leave campus, and the semester system of the eleven other participating schools may not coincide well with some students’ D-Plans. But the program is the perfect opportunity for international students who want a change of pace without having to adjust to yet another new country. Students can study off-campus without having to apply for a visa or experience the culture shock of a new country. With the 12 schools residing in a radius of only a few hundred miles, transfer students can easily come home for big weekends, such as Homecoming and Winter Carnival, without feeling as though they’re missing out on Dartmouth traditions.

The Twelve College Exchange allows Dartmouth students to become part of two schools and gain a unique perspective on their area of study. Those looking to experience a smaller school, an all-female school or even a warmer school should not overlook this program.