International students face obstacles in planning study away


Kamini Ramakrishna and Ellen Patrickson

International students at Macalester face a host of challenges in planning study away compared to their domestic peers. While around 60% of Macalester students end up studying away, only 36.63% of international students do so. 

The main reason for this discrepancy lies in the fact that international students are only able to apply their financial aid package to Group A study away programs, unless study away is required for their major. Group A programs are the least costly for Macalester. Being an international studies major is an exception to this rule.

According to Brian Lindeman, the Assistant Vice President for Admissions and Financial Aid, issues with Macalester’s allotted budget for student study away opportunities is the main reason for the disparity. 

“I think in the current year, the budget is around 5 million,” Lindeman said. “That expense is a function of how many students study away. And so over the years, there’s always been attention to that budget line.”

Lindeman offered another reason for the rule — one that is more related to international students themselves.

“One potential reason that the policy was put into place is because there’s an idea that international students are already studying away when they’re in the United States,” Lindeman said. 

According to Lindeman, the college strives to focus its energy on domestic students who want to study away instead of doing so for students who are already living in a country different from their home country. 

Recently, this policy has been brought to the attention of Provost Lisa Anderson-Levy. At the recent community conversation on Feb. 3, she was asked about the progress in resolving this financial obstacle.

“The roadblocks don’t seem to be insurmountable, but the issue is how do we support international students in a way that is financially sustainable over time?” Anderson-Levy asked.

Over the past several years, many of these restrictive policies surrounding study away opportunities for international students have been improved. In 2014, international students were only able to apply their financial aid package to one faculty-led program every year. The next year, international student access was expanded to all faculty-led programs. By 2017, Macalester established a relationship with International Student Exchange Programs (ISEP) which gives international students access to hundreds of campuses across the world. Little progress has been made since the last time The Mac Weekly covered this issue in 2019.

According to Director of Study Away Kevin Morrison, the origins of these restrictive rules are largely unknown. Even with the improvements over the years, many international students believe that they are still extremely limited in their options for study away programs.

“What we haven’t been able to do is open the whole list to international students,” Morrison said. 

This has disappointed many international students at Macalester. Bobbie Pennington ’24 said that he came to Macalester partially for the study away programs and that it was only a few months before the study away applications were due that he found out that his financial aid could not be applied to most of the available programs. Eventually, the limited options and additional costs made him decide not to study away at all. 

“When I found out how limited the options were for me I’m a high need student and couldn’t afford to take an unfinanced study away program I was very disheartened. Finally, I decided not to study away,”  Pennington said. 

Some international students have had more luck than others. Alessandra Policarpo ’24 plans on studying away in Paris next semester. However, she admitted that some obstacles have still come up.

“The lucky thing was that my study away was one of the programs that my financial aid would be transferred to,” Policarpo said. “The housing is not included. In this program that I’m applying to, they have several campuses… I know that I won’t do certain campuses because they are more expensive. For example, with the Paris campus, I have to pay for accommodation.”

Policarpo said that the Financial Aid Office has been useful in helping her figure out her finances for study away.

“I was really happy when I sent an email to Financial Aid asking about study away things and they answered me with a spreadsheet with all my expenses,” Policarpo said.

However, she noted that while she was told by the Financial Aid Office that she could waive her health insurance, upon looking at the college’s website she found that international students could not do so.

The study away experience is different for domestic and international students. While some members of the Macalester community may think the rule is justified because international students are already abroad, many international students disagree.  

“Even though we live in another country, we sometimes want to have this experience of doing a semester abroad again,” Policarpo said.

[email protected]

[email protected]