Erin Dumbacher: Academics abroad should match those at home

As GW students, we pride ourselves on the international environment that is our campus and our city. When The Hatchet reported that nearly 42 percent of the class of 2005 studied abroad during their junior year (“GW Briefs,” Jan. 30, p. 2), launching GW into the national top 10 in percentage of students studying abroad, was it really a surprise?

Every year students primarily select from the two most popular types of study abroad venues: GW-sponsored programs, often affiliated with GW Study Centers, and those that the University labels “affiliated” programs. Verified for their academic integrity and safety standards, these approved programs dramatically outnumber the GW-sponsored programs and vary in location, administration and academic intensity. Sponsored programs can only be found in major European cities – London, Paris and Madrid – with the very recent additions of two Latin American study centers in Chile and Argentina. If you want to study French or Spanish, you’re covered; otherwise, the University outsources your education.

Make no mistake – many of the approved programs provide top cultural and educational experiences, and it would be impossible for GW to span the globe to the extent of the listed programs. But University policy implies that approved programs are not as academically rigorous as those in Study Centers are: none of the grades a student receives abroad with an affiliated program are calculated into his or her overall GPA.

It is imperative that students have academically sound study abroad options, not only for the benefit of tuition-paying and loan-bearing students, but also for the University’s reputation as a leading international educator.

The new Latin American centers are a belated step in the right direction. The Office for Study Abroad should look no farther than to its neighbors at the Elliott School of International Affairs, whose graduate students have a range of established relationships with elite political science and international relations schools available to them. As the international reputation of GW continues to gain prominence, the University must adapt undergraduate options to represent its own academic goals of success.

Demand among the student body for opportunities abroad is apparent, and there is no better way to change the image of Americans abroad than for bright, driven and interested students to become immersed into the student bodies of Europe’s foremost schools. Until the University recognizes the need to sponsor more challenging programs away from Foggy Bottom, those of us who study Arabic, Chinese, German or Swahili will have to settle for second best.

-The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, studied abroad in the fall of 2005 in Warsaw, Poland, and plans to spend the spring semester in Berlin.

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