Perspectives on Study Abroad

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I have had the amazing experience of studying abroad. In fact, I have been studying abroad my whole life, and I loved every minute of it. From the Philippines to Vietnam, from Malaysia to Thailand, and now here in the US, studying abroad is what I do best. So it is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I highly encourage Macalester students to go for it themselves. In fact, I love it so much that I even work in the International Center in the Study Abroad office, and have worked there since my first semester here at Mac. Therefore, it has come to my attention that a lot of students are pretty damn upset about being told that they might not have a chance to go abroad this spring. Don’t get me wrong, if I had applied (which I actually did) to study abroad, and was told that I might be denied by my home institution, I too would be up in arms. Like almost every other situation that Macalester students are not happy about, there has been a large petition going around that states that all students who are eligible should have the right to study abroad.

Let’s go over that word really quickly. Eligible. It means that if you have a high enough GPA or that your major requires you to go abroad, you should have the right to go. Very true. The program that you choose should also be one that the International Center is familiar with. The reason for this is basically quality control. Macalester does not want to have to pay for students to go on what could essentially be glorified vacations. There are programs where you can sail around the world for a semester and basically party on a cruise ship. As fun as that sounds, it isn’t exactly the point of study abroad. Macalester wants to ensure that students are getting an education that is roughly equivalent to attending Macalester for a semester.

Let’s also take a look at the fact that you have to apply to study abroad. An application process itself implies that people are going to get rejected. We are now in the real world where things may not always go our way. We are going to get rejected from job interviews, from graduate school and from hundreds of other things before we die. This is just one of those many things that Macalester students need to understand. It is in my opinion that Mac kids tend to jump the gun a little bit. They tend to fight for causes without fully understanding the implications. Without fully understanding the decisions and debates that go behind certain policies, we all want to do what we think is right. I am going to say it again, and as much as people will disagree, we are in the real world ladies and gentlemen.

What a lot of people also seem to forget is that your financial aid carries over when you study abroad. In fact, Macalester is one of the only institutions to include airfare in your financial aid package. This is one of the biggest reasons that Macalester has a cap on the number of students that can go abroad each semester. Let’s remember that 70% of Macalester students are on financial aid. Because of this, Macalester ends up paying out thousands and thousands of dollars to these institutions such as SIT or HECUA or to the London School of Economics. As much as we choose to ignore it, there is never going to be a continuous supply of cash. Yes, all students should have the chance to study abroad, but at what cost? Does this mean paying faculty members less? Does it mean cutting back on other programs?

The only conclusion that I can come up with is that Macalester needs to try and find more funding to let more students study abroad. My understanding is that Macalester is not trying to stop people from going abroad; in fact they encourage it whole heartedly. There are just a few things, such as a strong cash flow, that inhibit all students from experiencing something great. If the college can come up with the money to send more students abroad, I think it would make a lot of us very happy. But like all things, this too will be a battle Macalester students will have to decide whether or not is really worth fighting.

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