The mandatory study abroad requirement is a defining characteristic of Goucher. It was implemented in 2006 by immediate past president, Sanford Ungar, which made the class of 2010 the first class with obligatory study abroad. Since Goucher’s new president José Bowen has assumed his role this semester, students have been talking about whether or not the requirement will stay. As of now, the college has not made any formal statements about changing the requirement and the freshman class of 2018 is required to study abroad.
Some students find it challenging to fit study abroad into their course of study. Joel Michael-Schwartz ’15 is a music major, concentrating in mandolin performance. Michael-Schwartz explained that the Office of International Studies (OIS) hasn’t approved any music programs abroad, making it difficult for him to find a program that suits his needs. Additionally, Michael-Schwartz said that OIS was unhelpful when he tried to design his own, music-oriented study abroad not affiliated with Goucher. He said, as a dedicated musician, to take an entire semester off from his music would be “crippling to his studies.” Michael-Schwartz could do an Intensive Course Abroad (ICA), but finds them to be more like an expensive vacation rather than a study abroad. “I think it’s [study abroad] a good idea…the principle is sound, but it’s not a good idea if we don’t have the resources or infrastructure to do it well,” said Michael-Schwartz.
Another group of students for whom a mandatory study abroad is particularly challenging are those majoring in the physical and natural sciences, especially pre-med students. Birthe Kjellerup, assistant professor of biology believes a semester abroad is great if it goes with your major, and said it is “important to be a global citizen.” However, science majors could have an equally or more meaningful global experience studying in the United States under the guidance of an international scientist. Still some students, particularly those who are pre-med choose an ICA so their coursework isn’t disrupted. George Delahunty, Professor of Biology and the advisor to pre-med students, said thinks that it’s counterproductive for the college to mandate study abroad, and that Goucher needs “to be a college of opportunity, rather than a college of mandate.”
For other students, study abroad is key to their Goucher experience. Hannah Spiegelman ’15, a history major and art history minor, chose Goucher partially for its study abroad requirement. Spiegelman feels as though she benefitted from Goucher because everyone goes abroad, and it’s a normal part of the experience. Spiegelman added, study abroad “should be something that everyone does as part of their education” because it “shapes you so much as a person,” and nothing can compareto that experience abroad.
Katherine Mowrer ’15, a peace studies major and Africana studies minor, agrees that the study abroad requirement made Goucher stand out among other liberal arts colleges. Similarly, Mowrer believes it’s “important to me that every student would study abroad so that the classroom discussions would be framed in an international mindset.”
The reintegration process that occurs after returning is a challenge many students face. Mowrer spent her entire junior year abroad and believes that reentry process needs to be viewed in another way. There are many pieces of reentry, and the emotional aspect is just one of them. Mowrer also thinks that there is a gap between the students’ experiences abroad and their schoolwork. Emily Levine ‘15, another peace studies major, agrees with this view and feels as though there is not a place to discuss the topics and ideas she learned abroad.
In order to provide an opportunity for students to talk about what they learned abroad, Levine came up with an idea that evolved into the School for International Training (SIT) research presentations. The presentations occurred during Goucher’s International Education Week. She is currently working on other ways to integrate the study abroad experience into academic life, and hopes to give more students to the chance to give academic presentations next semester. Additionally, Levine is working with a local storyteller in hopes of enabling students to tell their stories from study abroad.
Florencia Cortés-Conde, chair of the Spanish department, is also an advocate for study abroad. Cortés-Conde believes it has to be studying abroad, rather than simply just traveling abroad. Studying abroad, she said, is “trying to gain a different understanding of the world that really changes you at a deeper level.” She named living with a host family, attending classes, and experiencing everyday life as key components to study abroad. Flo Martin, professor of French, said “if we’re going to be a global college, we need study abroad,” even if it is not required, the program needs to be strong.
Alumna Kathryn Walker ’14, a French major, finds study abroad to have been advantageous to her Goucher experience. Walker’s major required her to study abroad for a minimum of one semester. She spent her entire junior year abroad. Walker explained, “I never realized how invaluable this was until coming back from studying abroad- my first few weeks of senior year were spent catching up with friends…and really understanding how far we’d all come and how much we’d grown and learned.” She has also found that her time abroad has helped her with her current job, teaching English in France
Students who spend a semester, or year, or three weeks abroad have a variety of reasons for their choice. Katelyn Shiring ’17, an international relations major, thinks “Goucher needs to reevaluate why there are so many restrictions and arbitrary rules when it comes to study abroad. We’re a school that likes to think outside the box, but as soon as you slap rules and restrictions on something that’s meant to broaden a mind, it loses the magic.”
A lot of what is said about study abroad conflicts. Billy Daly ‘16 explained that the school tells students that this is something they must to in order to gain a cultural experience, however, “they care more about what happens in a classroom in another country than what happens not in a classroom in another country,” and the college focuses on “[trying] to fit the learning you did in a box for your major.”
There appears to be yet another disconnection with study abroad requirement: what students actually get and what the school says they will get.
“[Study abroad has] become so institutionalized that it’s seen as a graduation requirement rather than experience and an adventure,” Shiring said. In the near future, the school and the students will need to articulate the reasons and the value, both experiential and monetary, behind the study abroad requirement.