Shwetha Srinivasan: A domestic exchange program provides more chances to explore

You don’t have to leave the United States to immerse yourself in a different culture.

Sure, about half of all undergraduates will study abroad during their time at GW through hundreds of programs taking place in 50 countries. But studying abroad isn’t the only way to experience another culture. Some schools have implemented “study away” or domestic exchange programs as an alternative – all without the need for a passport.

GW should implement its own study away program or partner with another institution to offer students the option. Study away has become more popular in recent years, and it’s likely many more students would be interested in this alternative.

Through study away programs, students can gain cross-cultural perspectives in diverse communities within the United States at a comparatively lower cost. Studying abroad sounds exciting, but it’s also a financial burden for many and can hinder students’ access to an opportunity that might enrich their college experiences. That’s where study away comes in: Not only can it provide students with the opportunity to experience another culture, but it does so without breaking the bank.

At most study away programs, students will pay tuition, room and board, and any other mandatory costs. Many study away programs have no additional program fees, which all study abroad programs have. The program fee is a cost students pay in addition to their tuition, and can vary based on the study abroad location.

For GW students, study abroad can cost up to $7,775 on top of tuition. But traveling and living domestically is much cheaper than traveling abroad, leaving students with a bit less financial stress. Plus, through the National Student Exchange, a consortium of about 200 universities in the United States that offer domestic exchange programs, students can apply their federal aid and scholarships.

GW also wouldn’t be the first school to try something like a study away program. New York University offers a domestic exchange program with one of five historically black colleges or Hispanic-serving institutes, which allows students to study in different cities all over the country.

GW is already a host to a study away program called the Semester in Washington Politics program, which allows students interested in the political process to study in D.C. for a semester. This program combines course study with internships and networking events, providing students with a hands-on approach to learn more about politics.

While study abroad can expose students to a variety of cultures and unique opportunities for service, we forget that we can do the same in the United States. There are important opportunities for service here, too. Students could also volunteer at other schools or communities through a study away program, like students do through the “Resettling Refugees” class in Maine, offered by Williams College in Massachusetts.

Study away programs also give students an opportunity to test out different career options. Often, they focus on topical issues – like immigration, urban education, theater and foreign policy – and tend to offer internships that go along with academics. For example, Vassar College offers a program in urban education in collaboration with Bank Street College of Education in New York City. In this program, students take a few courses at the Bank Street College and supplement it with an internship with New York City’s public schools.

Study away programs can also help students decide where they might want to move after graduating. A student interested in a job on the West Coast or in a different metropolitan area could choose a study away program that allows them to study in that city. That way, they can decide if they can see themselves living there after they graduate.

For many students, the point of study abroad programs is not to travel, but to have an intercultural experience in a city like Santiago or Barcelona, which allows you to interact with people from different cultures and learn new perspectives. But that doesn’t mean you should completely rule out finding that same opportunity here in the United States.

Study away programs aren’t necessarily better than study abroad programs, nor vice versa. Each has its own benefits, and students would likely find that one is a better fit for them than the other. But without offering both, GW is denying students the opportunity to gain cross-cultural perspectives in a variety of ways.

Shwetha Srinivasan, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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