It’s a blindingly sunny Wednesday afternoon as trails of faculty members emerge from the academic buildings and dart across the quad toward Dorsey Center. They head toward the faculty meeting, which is dotted with students as the faculty members enter Merrick and find their seats. Included in the numerous items on the agenda for the hour and fifteen minute meeting is an update from the ad hoc Study Abroad Committee, which has done work throughout this year to review the study abroad requirement at Goucher.
Daniel Marcus, Nyasha Grayman-Simpson, and Brandon Arvesen took the floor to share their preliminary review, which focused on three factors: finances, recruitment, and learning objectives. This is the second year of a three-year faculty-initiated probationary review of the study abroad requirement. The committee explained that this is the first time anyone has started to do an extensive review of Goucher’s study abroad program, and that the committee could only provide a preliminary report for the time being.
In 2006, Goucher College’s tenth president, Sandy J. Ungar, implemented the requirement for all undergraduate students to study abroad. This requirement came with a $1,200 voucher to cover extraneous travel costs and make up for income students would otherwise be making while living and working on campus. While the voucher existed for nearly a decade, it was removed in 2016. Now, many students cite finances as an obstacle involved with study abroad. As Eliezer Cartenega ‘18 (Argentina, Spring, 2017) said, “Study abroad was very stressful. And I felt like that stress detracted from the experience because I was so worried about my money situation.” The committee noted that the financial component is a significant part of the discussion, and that this element of the review was currently inconclusive, as it required an extended time frame.
Even with its complications, study abroad continues to attract prospective students. The committee referenced entry and exit reviews completed by 290 students in 2014 who said study abroad was a very important reason they chose Goucher. Anne Werkheiser ‘18 (Seville, Spain, Fall 2016) said, “ I work in admissions and talking about study abroad is always the best part of my tour; it’s really what draws students in and makes Goucher stand out.” The committee points out that the requirement may both attract and deter prospective students. Data collected from Goucher’s 2014 Admitted Students Survey found that 56.71% of Fall 2014 admitted students ranked study abroad as “very important” in their decision to attend Goucher; while 18.37% ranked study abroad as “very important” in their decision not to attend Goucher.
Students speak of how study abroad impacts Goucher. Kalee LaPointe ‘19 (Athens, Greece, Fall 2017) said, “ There’s just this sort of feeling you get when you talk to other students at Goucher about study abroad that is completely missing when I talk to students from other colleges.” Sarah Zaukus ‘18 (University of Roehampton, UK, Fall 2017) said, “I also feel like study abroad at Goucher is like a rite of passage, which in my opinion is really cool.” Further, Madison Hernandez ‘19 (SIT Uganda) said, “…one of the main reasons that I came here was because I didn’t have to choose between being an athlete and studying abroad…I knew that it would be extremely difficult for me to convince any coach to let me go abroad for an entire semester. However, when I toured here I realized that I could have both since whatever coach I had could not stop me from going abroad if it was a requirement for my major. “
Rather than detracting from the various other commitments student make on campus, the committee found that a majority of the major program chairs reported that study abroad served to enhance their major’s learning objectives. Regarding learning objectives, students connect study abroad to personal, academic, and professional development. On the personal level, Marina Lant ‘18 (Hansard Scholars Program, London, Spring 2016) said, “Not only did my time abroad challenge me to think about myself and my experiences in a completely different context, but it forced me to reevaluate my world view and think about the reverberations of all my actions.” Academically, Jess Solomon ‘18 (La Trobe University Melbourne, Spring 2017) said, “ It was 100000% beneficial to my Major, because I was able to take classes that I did not have any access to in Maryland.” Finally, regarding professional development, Rachel Grosso ‘18 (DIS – Copenhagen, Fall 2016) said, “I can definitively pinpoint my semester abroad as a turning point in my life; I’ve projected into the industry and career I’m pursuing as a direct outcome of my time in Denmark.” Further, Jonathan Davies ‘18 (University of Oxford, Spring 2017) said, “ I think if the school is set out to prepare students for the jobs that are yet to be created, then a crucial component, in my opinion, is this globally minded individual and that comes from the study abroad component.”
In the PCE 220 Organizing report, 16.4% of respondents cited study abroad as an area where significant gaps exist between expectations and experience. Meanwhile, 21.6% reported a desire to see further resources allocated to study abroad. Anne Werkheiser ‘18 suggested, “For example, there needs to be a more open and honest conversation about issues of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc; students may be blindsided by attitudes in certain areas.”
Since the ad hoc committee will officially disband at the end of the semester, they completed their preliminary report with recommendations for further review of study abroad. Their call for further review included internal and external reviews of the Office of International Studies, and a long-term financial report. At this point it is yet to be decided if another ad hoc committee will form to complete the third year of the probationary review, or if the review components will be delegated to a variety of Goucher stakeholders, as the current ad hoc committee has suggested. Regardless of this decision, the faculty will meet again in Spring 2019 at the end of the probationary period to vote on whether the current study abroad requirement will be renewed. Marina Lant ‘18 said, “It [study abroad] represents Goucher’s commitment to international learning and understanding your own context in the world and your more immediate environment. Even with all its flaws, I am proud of Goucher’s study abroad program. Taking away the requirement is a mistake.”
Featured Image: https://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/category/study-abroad/