College's off-campus study programs undergo change

Despite adaptations or cuts to its overall programming and an 18-month hiatus due to the pandemic, the Guarini Institute currently offers 79 distinct off-campus programs for students.

by Thomas Brown | 8/31/22 5:20am

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Source: Courtesy of Aditi Gupta

This article is featured in the 2022 Freshman special issue.

A hallmark of many students’ four years at Dartmouth is the term — or terms — they can spend on an off-campus program. According to Guarini Institute executive director John Tansey, 50% of undergraduates have typically gone on a foreign or domestic study program, language study abroad or foreign or domestic exchange during their time at the College. 

FSPs, DSPs and LSAs are all faculty-led programs, which are coordinated by Guarini and an academic department. An LSA, or the more advanced LSA+, is a  program specifically focused on foreign languages, while FSPs can refer to off-campus programs run by any department. Exchanges, which are either coordinated by Guarini or organized by a student, entail a student transferring to a new institution to take courses offered by that host institution that can then be transferred back to Dartmouth for credit.

Guarini offers dozens of off-campus programs, ranging from exchanges with the University of Copenhagen for sociology or the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for Middle Eastern studies, to faculty-led programs all around the world — from California to Southeast Asia. 

History of studying abroad at Dartmouth

According to Tansey, Dartmouth students first studied abroad through the College in 1958. In that year, Romance languages and literatures professor Robert Russell supported two members of the Class of 1960 to study Spanish at the University of Madrid in Spain. They returned with the first academic credit awarded to Dartmouth students for studying overseas. 

Program opportunities increased under the influence of French and Italian professor John Rassias — known for developing the drill system of language learning that Dartmouth students practice today, called the Rassias Method. In 1967, Rassias introduced Dartmouth’s first LSA, which occurred in Bourges, France. A distinguishing feature of this program was that students lived in homestays, which are now characteristic of the modern LSA model. Enrollment in off-campus programs increased in the subsequent decades, with some years in the 2000s peaking at more than 600 students participating in a program per year.

Due to the pandemic, all programs beginning in the spring of 2020 were halted, and only resumed in fall 2021. According to Tansey, more than 500 students would study abroad each academic year prior to the pandemic but only 422 students participated in programs during the 2021-22 academic year across 29 faculty-led programs and 10 exchanges.

“As of last fall, students have a tough choice,” Tansey said. “Many want to continue with an off-campus program but also want to spend time on campus.”

Despite being away from Dartmouth’s campus during her gap year, Jennifer Lee ’22 went on two study abroad programs in England within a year of returning to her studies — the government FSP at the London School of Economics and an exchange program with Keble College at the University of Oxford. Lee based her decision to go abroad on the fact that she was largely “stuck” at home during the pandemic.

“COVID made me really realize how valuable and just a great opportunity and what a privilege it is to be able to travel,” she said. “I really wanted to take advantage of those opportunities to travel for an extended period of time and to also learn while doing it.”

Throughout the past year of off-campus programming, Guarini applied a number of new changes to programs to mitigate risks posed by COVID-19. The institute asked faculty directors to “simplify” their programs to contain fewer overnight excursions and limit the number of locations visited, asked students to not travel outside of their host country and eliminated homestays in the fall, Tansey said. As the omicron variant of the coronavirus increased international cases of COVID-19 in the winter, many precautions were kept in place. Some homestays were reintroduced for language programs starting in the winter.

“Going into spring and now summer, we’ve been able to ease up on some of those things,” Tansey said. “We still have protocols for testing and quarantine and supporting students, but there are less restrictions in terms of travel within a country or to a country.”

Program experiences

Spanish professor José del Pino, who took 18 students on the Spanish FSP in Madrid in the winter, said he was “very satisfied” with the outcome of his program. Despite lingering COVID-19 policies and several students having to quarantine, del Pino marked the program an academic and cultural success. 

Language programs stipulate that students must stay within their host country to honor the language pledge they take before embarking on their program — a commitment to only speak the studied language in order to develop their fluency. For del Pino’s cohort, domestic travel remained a significant component of their cultural learning, with students traveling to other cities in Spain like Toledo, Segovia and Barcelona.

Anthropology professor Sienna Craig will lead the anthropology FSP in New Zealand in the winter of 2023, which focuses on “colonialism and its legacies,” she said. 

A highlight of the program’s experiential learning for Craig is a visit to the Waikaremoana community on the east coast of the northern island of New Zealand to “learn from masters of the Maori song, dance and martial art traditions known as kapa haka.”

While the program traditionally runs in New Zealand, the winter 2022 anthropology FSP occurred in Hawaii, which allowed anthropology students to learn about a community affected by settler colonialism without leaving the United States. Craig said that while the department hopes that the program in Hawaii will not be a “one-off” experience, it plans to return to running the program in New Zealand.

Lily Maechling ’23 said she was “always interested” in studying abroad and spent the fall 2021 term on an exchange program studying computer science at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, which she arranged by herself. While in Amsterdam, Maechling said she was exposed to topics in computer science that she would not have had access to at Dartmouth, like web ontologies — frameworks for representing data and describing relationships.

While Lee said she “loved” her experience in London, she noted that the Oxford exchange pushed her to make new friends outside of the Dartmouth community — while she was surrounded by around 50 other Dartmouth students across three FSPs in London in the fall, the Oxford exchange program accommodates only four students. Lee also said she enjoyed learning in a different style at Oxford than at Dartmouth. Oxford’s tutorial system — in which students are given a reading list and a choice of essay questions to answer, which they then review with a professor in small groups each week — was Lee’s prime example.

“I think it made me a much stronger critical thinker because while I was writing my essays, I had to do the work of anticipating counterarguments to my own argument so that I could be prepared for tutorial to discuss my ideas and engage with other people and their arguments,” Lee said.

Similarly to Lee, Maechling’s commitment to go abroad was spurred by her inability to travel during the height of the pandemic. She said that a motivating factor for choosing Amsterdam specifically was its central location in Europe, which enabled her to travel to seven other countries in Europe during her term.

“I really feel like I found some of my independence,” she said. “Through my love of traveling, I realized that I would be pretty happy to live or work abroad in the future.”

Del Pino said that such exposure to different methods of learning is intentionally a component of off-campus programs. 

“The teaching style of local faculty is different from a Dartmouth professor, but that’s part of the experience — that they will try not to create a bubble in the country where we go,” del Pino said. “That’s part of the richness of these programs… [students] are exposed to diverse ways of living and being educated.”

Looking forward

According to Tansey, fewer programs will be run each year now compared to pre-pandemic offerings. Prior to the pandemic, Guarini offered around 42 faculty-directed programs per year but is now planning to run 31 or 32 programs per year. The reduced number of programs reflects Guarini’s structural budget deficit. In February 2021, the College cut Guarini’s budget by 28% — a decision that would have reduced the total number of offered programs to 25 per year. However, the budget cut was reversed early in the spring of 2021 and most of Guarini’s funds were reinstated.

In addition to their resumed programs, starting this year the Guarini Institute will offer Fall Term + programs — programs bearing course credit covered by fall term tuition that students take as a three-week-long course in a foreign country during the winter break. After the upcoming fall term, the German and Jewish Students departments will jointly run a program in Berlin and the Asian Societies, Cultures and Languages department will run a program in Ho Chi Minh City.

“We feel we’ll be providing an opportunity for students [for whom] this may be the only opportunity to go abroad, or and it may whet the appetite of some, perhaps as an initial experience away from campus,” Tansey said.

Craig further encouraged incoming students to consider an off-campus program as a “pivotal” element of their liberal arts education.

“One of the main things that a really successful study abroad experience does is it truly expands your sense of self in the world,” she said. “Because most study abroad programs or off-campus programs that Dartmouth runs combine students who may or may not have known each other or interacted with each other before on campus, it allows for a depth of experience and learning across different forms of social difference than you might ever experience on campus.”

Lee and Maechling both said that the key to studying abroad is to start planning early. Lee advised that once a student is familiar with Guarini’s offerings, they should look at prerequisites for specific programs to ensure that they can arrange their D-Plan accordingly.

Reflecting on her decision to study abroad, Maechling encouraged others to not be dissuaded by the fact that they will be away from Dartmouth.

“I was a little sad to leave campus after sophomore summer — especially because that’s such a bonding time for so many Dartmouth students — but everyone really goes their own way junior year and has all of their own plans,” she said. “Going abroad really seems like such a bold move in the moment, but really everyone else is doing some type of internship or abroad as well. If you’re a freshman, you should just go for it.”

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