Study Abroad Increasingly Popular and Feasible
By Khan Shoieb '13
As the fall semester comes to a close, Amherst sophomores are beginning, in greater numbers than ever, to consider plans to study abroad during their junior year. Indeed, the last couple of years have seen a fairly sharp spike in the number of Amherst students participating in study abroad programs: 45 percent of the junior class now goes abroad, a notable rising departure from historic trends of 30 to 35 percent.

To accommodate this burgeoning interest from freshmen and sophomore classes, Dean Janna Behrens, Director of International Experience at the Career Center, has been hosting a steady stream of informal information sessions at the Center. These sessions, held most Fridays from 2:00 to 2:30 p.m. and intended to field general inquiries, have been accompanied by more region- and program-specific discussions sprinkled throughout the calendar year. Dean Behrens seeks, in addition to providing these sessions for interested underclassmen, to make herself available for personal appointments with those students who have more extensive questions.

The steady interest among students in such programs is invariably associated with the role that such international programs play in augmenting what is an otherwise excellent Amherst education with the unique and valuable experience of immersion in a distinct culture, language and style of learning. Amherst students have consistently testified to peers and in thorough post-arrival evaluations that the time spent abroad can bestow a new-found sense of perspective and focus heading into their last semesters at the College. It is crucial to the success of such programs, however, to be able to find the right one: “Study-abroad isn’t for everyone,” said Behrens. “There are real benefits to spending a semester or two abroad, but a lot of that depends on the person, and I’m here to help you guys figure that out.

Yet, more and more students are finding that a study abroad program exists that aligns with their particular needs, undoubtedly a result of the Career Center’s efforts to expand the range of options available in terms of geography, language and educational content. Along with the increase in the total percentage of students going abroad, students have been enrolling in programs in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East in greater numbers than in traditional European countries. Students opting for a more intense immersion experience will also find increased capacity to direct-enroll into particular institutions. The Committee on International Education, which approves such programs, has been eager to broaden choices while maintaining similar vetting standards, helping to ensure that many quality programs exist that fit the varied interests of Amherst students.

Moreover, students who traditionally rule out study abroad programs because of their major or lack of foreign language proficiency are more likely to find that many programs exist which can accommodate their needs. Behrens, in tandem with the Committee on International Education, is searching for institutions and programs that enable science majors and other students with rigorous course requirements at Amherst to still have the option of studying abroad. The number of English study abroad programs in non-English speaking countries has also grown significantly. Students interested in international research will similarly find that certain programs offer opportunities for independent study projects.

As a result of such a concerted effort to enhance options for studying abroad, Amherst students — especially sophomores — with any degree of interest whatsoever should speak to Behrens to help evaluate their choices. Certain programs have upcoming application deadlines, and a Declaration of Intent to Study Abroad is due in the middle of the spring semester for sophomores (students will need to have had declared at least one major before submitting this form). The Study Abroad Library in the Career Center and the Career Center website are great starting points as resources for interested students who are unable to attend the provided information sessions.

Issue 11, Submitted 2010-12-08 03:38:34