Student interest in studying abroad returns to pre-pandemic levels

In addition, the number of applicants per off-campus program has increased beyond pre-pandemic levels, which reflects the reduced program offerings implemented in 2021.

by Charlotte Sadelain | 2/16/23 5:10am

by Lauren Lim / The Dartmouth

A preliminary review of this year’s study abroad applications suggests that student interest has returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to Guarini Institute for International Education executive director John Tansey. Study abroad applications for the 2023-24 academic year offered students the opportunity to apply to 32 faculty-directed offerings and 31 exchange programs, Tansey said.

Several programs in this cycle have been impacted by complications that have made traveling to certain locations difficult, according to Tansey. For example, the government and Russian departments had partnered with the Irving Institute for Energy and Society to offer a program previously set to launch in Summer 2022 which was canceled due to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. Instead, the departments will offer the Baltic Language, Energy and Politics program this summer, which will maintain its focus on Russian language, politics and energy but take place in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The Guarini Institute has also decided to move the Asian societies, cultures and languages LSA+ Chinese program from Beijing, China to Taipei, Taiwan for Fall 2023, according to Tansey. Tansey added that the change is a result of uncertainty around when China will remove pandemic-era restrictions and reopen its borders, as well as concerns about how long the necessary visa processing would have taken. 

“Rather than risk having that program not operate for a fourth consecutive year, we took a conservative approach and said, ‘We know we can do this in Taiwan, so let’s go with the known’ and then really work with our partners in Beijing to get back there the following year,” Tansey said. 

Several programs will also return for the first time since the pandemic, such as the environmental studies foreign study program in South Africa set to run during Fall 2023. 

According to Tansey, the number of applicants per program is higher, on average, than it was immediately before the pandemic. This increase reflects the fact that while there are roughly the same number of pre-pandemic applicants, the College’s off-campus program portfolio has been scaled down from the past. The Guarini Institute had previously offered 42 annual faculty-led initiatives but decided to reduce their number of offerings in 2021 as a result of internal budgeting considerations and reduced student interest. 

Tansey said that it is unclear whether the larger applicant pool can be attributed to renewed excitement about studying abroad. He added that another reason could be a post-pandemic accumulation of student interest in off-campus programs from those who were unable to participate over the last several years. Looking forward, Tansey said that the key question is whether these numbers will remain.

“If [the numbers hold], then I think that’s a conversation that would be important to have with students and faculty and administration: Is the number of programs that are in the portfolio adequate to meet student demand?” Tansey said.

Guarini Institute associate director Megan Wood said that both historically popular programs — such as the government FSP in London and anthropology FSP in Auckland, New Zealand — and newer programs — including the two Fall Term+ programs — had large applicant pools. 

The Fall Term+ programs debuted over the 2022 winter break with the Jewish studies and German department program in Berlin and the Asian societies, cultures and languages department program in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. According to past reporting from The Dartmouth, both programs provide an opportunity for students — who might not otherwise be able to study abroad — to study off-campus and also encourage students to study abroad again during a later term. Wood added that there was particularly strong interest in Dartmouth’s exchange programs, in which students enroll in one of Dartmouth’s global partner institutions for a term. 

Fall Term+ programs involve meeting as a program at least twice during the fall term and then traveling to the destination country for approximately three weeks during winter break. History professor Edward Miller, who will be the faculty director for the Fall Term+ Developing Vietnam program in Fall 2023, said the program spans many academic disciplines including Asian studies, history, economics and environmental studies. 

“The main focus of the program is on development, and development is a really important topic in many fields,” Miller said. “It’s certainly important in my field, but it’s [also] very important in economics, in geography and in just about every field of social science and humanities.”

Curating a program where Dartmouth students travel to Vietnam has been one of Miller’s long standing goals, he said, adding that he was excited to learn that there was interest in the upcoming session. 

“We had 49 students apply for the program, this time for 20 spots, so it does seem that this is something that students are interested in, which is great,” Miller said.

Italian professor Damiano Benvegnu — who will lead the Italian LSA+ in Rome for his first time during Winter 2024 — said that he is excited to bring the relationship between human communities and their environment into focus throughout the program. 

“One thing that I want to discover with my students is really how Italy is a mosaic of different places and different experiences — when from a distance Italy can look relatively homogeneous,” he said. “For geographical, historical, political [and] linguistic reasons, instead [it] is a place that is really a constellation of different cultural ecosystems.”

Students expressed excitement about the opportunity to get off of Dartmouth’s campus and connect with other cultures, professors and students. Lauren Kayari ’25, who studies earth science, said she applied to the Earth sciences FSP, known as “The Stretch,” that traverses the Canadian Rockies and Western United States. 

“I know a lot of people who did it previously and all loved the experience; the professors that teach it are just amazing and super approachable,” Kayari said.

Michael Burns ’26 said he applied to the Spanish LSA+ in Buenos Aires, Argentina and added that he hoped it would be a transformative cultural experience. 

“I would love to get to know Spanish on a South American level, rather than just the Central American and Caribbean that [I have been exposed to],” he said. “The culture is immense, and I would just love to get to know more about Argentina as a whole.”

According to Wood, round two applications will open for programs that are not already full on March 1.