Study abroad numbers rise

Although a recently enacted study abroad policy limited the number of foreign destinations at which students can study this year, more GW students spent the fall semester abroad, and officials said they expect a participation increase for next semester.

Director of Study Abroad Lynn Leonard said about 230 undergraduates studied abroad this semester, up almost 10 percent from fall 2002. She said Wednesday that 480 students submitted their final paperwork to spend spring semester abroad, but numbers are “preliminary” because forms are still being collected. Last spring, 470 undergraduates studied abroad.

The most popular destination this year is Spain, which has consistently been one of students’ top three choices.

“The numbers are up slightly,” Leonard said. “I attribute that to student demand – the fact that students want to study abroad. There’s an increasing tendency for undergraduates … to seek an international component to their education.”

Almost 161,000 students studied abroad nationally in 2001-02, according to the Institute of International Education’s Web site. Leonard said the overall number of students studying abroad has increased 5 percent to 10 percent over the last five years. But GW’s increase in numbers has doubled the national average, rising 10 percent to 20 percent in the last five years, she said.

“We’re the type of institute that attracts students who value international exposure,” Leonard said.

Last year, the University stopped accepting transfer credits from about 5,000 non-affiliated study abroad programs that varied in price. Students wishing to study abroad must now choose from 211 GW-affiliated programs and pay GW tuition. GW’s $13,885 price tag is more expensive than some of the state university programs students used that cost only a few thousand dollars.

Students can go through a lengthy petition process to participate in an unaffiliated program.

“It’s a rigorous process because faculty and students take it very seriously,” Leonard said. “Students do a good job documenting why an alternative program meets their needs. Students without a solid rationale don’t write convincing petitions.”

The study abroad office received 50 petitions for the spring semester, which Leonard called a “reasonable expectation.” She said all but two of the petitions were accepted.

Leonard said students petitioned for a variety of destinations, but there were a few “clumps,” including several applications for programs in Italy.

“We’ll look at why those programs would be better fits than what we currently offer,” Leonard said.

Junior Will Welt will study in the Czech Republic next semester through the American Institute of Foreign Study, a non-GW-affiliated program. He had to petition to get his program approved and said the application process included a two-page essay about his program and a spot for professor and academic adviser approval.

The application asks students to name the program they want approved and GW-affiliated programs in that city. Students must explain their specific linguistic, academic and cultural objectives for the program and why GW’s do not fulfill these objectives.

“I definitely underestimated the application process,” Welt said.

He said he picked a program based on the city in which he wanted to study and that GW did not have what he wanted. He said the AIFS program has more “relaxed requirements” and that he will take only one course while there.

Junior Devan Atanian will study in Mexico next semester through a GW-affiliated program, but her first-choice program was through Loyola University in New Orleans. She said she did not want to endure the petition process and also needed financial assistance, which students receive when they travel on GW-affiliated programs.

“I am really, really upset about the charge (to study abroad),” she said. “It feels like an obvious theft.”

But some students, including junior Henry Maticorena, said they were happy with GW’s program choices.

“I’m glad we had a program in Brazil at all,” said Maticorena, who will study there next semester. “GW seems to pay more attention to the bigger countries in Europe. I’m glad I have a choice.”

Leonard said charging GW tuition allows the University to give financial assistance to students who need it. She said difference in program cost and GW tuition covers faculty salaries and general maintenance of the University.

“Any remainder stays behind at the University to continue to defray costs for you even though you’re not here,” Leonard said. “We need to maintain a campus even though you’re not here.”

Students must also pay a $150 enrollment fee to study abroad, which Leonard said “maintains the costs of the service.”

“(Study abroad) is a choice, so we think it’s important (that) students who choose not to go aren’t paying for our services,” she said.

Leonard said the University will not add any affiliated programs for next semester, but the study abroad office will evaluate new programs to add for 2004-05. She declined to comment on additions to the list of programs.

“There are a few irons in the fire,” Leonard said. “It’s still premature.”

-Stephanie Samuel contributed to this report.

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