|Successful Study Abroad Program Presents Challenges and Changes for Students
September 23, 2010
Contact: John Syme
Within hours of early September’s New Zealand earthquake, Davidson received a status report for students on programs there.
“Just want to reassure you that despite a massive earthquake near Christchurch on Saturday, all your five students are alive and well,” the resident director at Arcadia University wrote across the time zones to Jessica Williams, Davidson’s new study abroad coordinator. (Read the travel blogs of Daniel Councell ’12 and Leland Taylor ’12 in New Zealand here.) Williams’ commitment to the best possible study abroad experience for every student is front and center especially now: This year’s campus theme is “Global Connections.”
Keeping tabs on the safety of students abroad is just one of the most visible parts of the job. “There is a great deal to consider on the front end for a good study abroad experience, including health and safety as well as cultural immersion and curriculum,” Williams said. “Not all study abroad programs are the same.” Williams is intimately familiar with a detailed list of some 200 pre-approved programs in 50 countries that Davidson students choose from. The list is trimmed this year to include only the strongest options while maintaining as wide a variety as possible.
It is a “moving target,” Williams said, one that is always evolving based on the experiences of Davidson students. She also emphasized that any student with an independent idea for study abroad is welcome to use the resources of her office to research appropriate programs and possibilities.
A Serious Challenge, A Call to Action
Davidson study abroad, part of the Dean Rusk International Studies Program, is facing is an imbalance in the number of students who are abroad in fall semester versus spring semester. Davidson has 188 students abroad this semester (including 8 for the full year), compared with 53 (including 7 for the full year) abroad last spring.
The disparity began in 2000, against the backdrop of a rising national trend: latest industry figures show an annual growth rate over 8 percent in students studying abroad for credit. The problem with the current disproportion at Davidson is that the ripple effects reach throughout campus life, from curriculum to residence life, from facilities to human resources. In a time of strong and careful strategic growth at the college (see Strategic Plan), managing the flow of students abroad is critical.
“We hope to avoid a cap,” said Chris Alexander, McGee Director of the Dean Rusk International Studies Program and associate dean for international programs. “We would like to think we can go to students and let them know about this institutional challenge, and that they will respond in the best interest of the Davidson community now and in the future. We’re a small community, and this affects all of us.” If the balance between the number of students abroad spring and fall semesters does not begin to even out in the next couple of semesters, Alexander said, the college will need to take stronger measures.
“It’s really up to the students,” he said. The approved list and a new “intent to study abroad” form, due Oct. 1, are available here.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.