Restrictive study abroad policies limit possible experiences

Since announcing its new restrictive policies, I have eagerly awaited the study abroad office’s list of “approved” study abroad programs. After seeing The Hatchet’s story and the list, my expectations of total disappointment were more than fulfilled.

I graduated in 1991 from the Elliott School of International Affairs, thanks in part to the year abroad I was able to do. At the time, none of the study abroad programs offered by GW met my academic needs, as most were not oriented toward Latin America and those that were focused on learning language, which I did not need. Despite the total lack of cooperation from GW’s study abroad office with my search, I was fortunate enough to find the University of Kansas exchange program with the University of Costa Rica and the experience changed both my academic fortunes and my life.

To this day, I remain grateful to GW for giving me full credit for the academic coursework I did during my year abroad. While the cost of the Kansas/Costa Rica program was meager compared to tuition at GW, the learning experience was far superior to anything GW could offer. When I returned, I had taken four semesters of Latin American history, one of Latin American economic history and three semesters of Latin American political science. To have completed that level of coursework at GW would have taken years and required taking classes at other area schools. Even with that, I doubt the depth and scope of the courses could have equaled what was offered in Costa Rica.

My year abroad program placed me in regular classes at the University of Costa Rica, no made-for-foreigners courses or classes in English were available. It was, simply put, an academic year that GW could not offer me on campus.

As a result of my year abroad, I was able to launch a post-graduate career in journalism that saw me serve as the Central America and Colombia correspondent for financial newswire BridgeNews from 1996-2001. Currently, I am the senior writer for The Tico Times, Costa Rica’s English-language newspaper. I have even spoken to visiting student groups from GW.

My wife and I met at the University of Costa Rica and of my professors there, one has been a minister of state, another is currently secretary general of a major political party, another finished third in both the 1998 and 2002 presidential elections. A fourth is in line to be the next university president and a classmate has served as a deputy in the Legislative Assembly.

The lower costs allowed me savings that helped pay for me to complete my GW degree.

The Kansas/Costa Rica is the oldest college student exchange program between the United States and Latin America. There is no doubt that its academic credentials are rock solid.

In recent years, a cottage industry of student exchanges has sprung up and some programs of dubious academic quality have snuck into the mix. But I am ever so sad to see that the Kansas/Costa Rica program did not make the GW-approved list. Three programs in Costa Rica did make the cut, but I have never heard of any of them and they are not as established as the Kansas/Costa Rica one.

Costa Rica is just one example of the shortcomings of this list. I sincerely hope that GW rethinks its policy to restrict study abroad opportunities. Instead, I would urge the school to encourage more students to participate in more programs. For GW to truly fulfill its mandate as a premier international school, it cannot afford to cut off international opportunities to its own students.

This can be done while ensuring the academic integrity of the study abroad program. More options may mean more vetting work for the University administration in the short-run, but in the end they can only benefit GW, its students and the community.
-The writer, a 1991 GW graduate, currently resides and works in Coronado, Costa Rica.

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