This Week's Message
Study Abroad as a Journey, not a Trip
In 4th century Rome there were many foreign students. Given Rome's place in the global firmament at that time, it should not surprise us that it was a popular study abroad destination. While this population was generally made welcome, there were sufficient challenges that the authorities felt compelled to issue rules on conduct. As quoted in William Capes' University Life in Ancient Athens (1922):
All who come to Rome to study must appear at once before the public registrar, and present their passports from the Justices of the peace who have given them leave to travel; that thus entry be made of their birthplace, rank, and character. They must also on their first appearance name the faculty in which they wish to study. The Registry must also take note of where they lodge, and see if they adhere to the profession they have chosen. Its officers must look to it that they all behave well in society, being careful of their good name and of the company they keep, not going to the theatre too often, nor sallying out to wine parties at a late hour of the night. Furthermore, it anyone's behavior shall have been discreditable to the interests of learning, we hereby give our Ministers authority to whip the offender publicly and put him on shipboard at once, and send him home without delay. But those who work steadily at their professional studies may be allowed to stay at Rome till they have reached their twentieth year.
There is clearly a long and rich tradition of viewing study abroad undertaken by undergraduates with a jaundiced eye. There is a feeling abroad in the land that these opportunities are mere trips, a hiatus from the rigors of a liberal education, and most likely the weakest link in the chain of coursework that constitutes the academic transcript.
We in international education need to acknowledge that there exists some truth in this stereotype and if we are frank, acknowledge that our own study abroad programs are not without episodes of behavior that have not advanced the goals of higher education. As usual, the periodical, the Onion, captures the zeitgeist on study abroad in the early years of the 21st century.
And yet this dispiriting picture must not paralyze us from acting to develop study abroad programs that are journeys of self-discovery; journeys that illuminate the linkage between liberal arts and life; create a more cosmopolitan citizen who can move comfortably in different worlds and who recognizes the intrinsic worth of the Other. A journey that at its best can make us want to be better people.
So let us have rules of engagement for study abroad. Let us think deeply and intentionally when crafting these opportunities. Let us acknowledge openly and frankly that progress in this endeavor will often be elusive; that it is easy to do this badly and difficult to do it well. But let us engage and recognize the value of the effort.
Director, Office of International Programs