These days most colleges and universities encourage study abroad semesters for many programs of study. This opportunity is much more common now than it was when I was a college student. The chance to study in a different culture while still living under the safety umbrella of an academic institution can often be the experience of a lifetime.
There are several options to study abroad offered by most universities.
An LSA is a language study abroad program where a student is able to fulfill a language requirement after taking introductory language courses on campus and then more advanced coursework in a country that speaks his or her language of study.
A subject program of study is one where a student is going abroad to fulfill further requirements in his or her major. For example an international studies major may go to Europe to learn about the various forms of government.
The programs vary from having an academic professor from one's home school running a program abroad to having a student enroll for a semester in a foreign academic program independent of their base school.
In addition there are many internship opportunities in the global world for students to complement their academic studies with practical real life experience.
Each of these options and I am sure there are many others as well offer an academic benefit to the participant. The students also gain a broadening of their global and cultural awareness based upon where they live during this experience. Options can range from living in a college dormitory, subletting an apartment or living with a family.
When our daughter applied to do an spring 2012 LSA (Language Study Abroad) program in Barcelona last March (2011) we were very excited for her and couldn't wait to learn if she would be accepted. A few weeks after the application we learned she would be going to Barcelona in March 2012 to complete her Spanish requirement with a Professor from Dartmouth College and a group of about 20 classmates.
Very exciting news!!
On January 9, 2012 we learned of the tragedy of a young Dartmouth student who was to study abroad for the semester but was found murdered in his apartment by classmates after he had not shown up for orientation. I was totally alarmed and contacted the Off Campus Housing Dean at Dartmouth to learn more about what happened and how this could have been prevented. He had not gone to Spain through a program affiliated with Dartmouth. I was assured that the Dartmouth program has measures in place and a professor actually goes and is with the students.
About a month later after intensive police investigation it was learned that the landlord of this students' apartment had drugged and murdered him. At this point my anxiety level was on high and I was back in touch with the school. It was learned that this boys program was not through an approved Dartmouth program and he most likely found housing on his own. This was very scary.
As a host parent for the AFS program my family has been hosting high school students who come to study in the US for the past few years. Through AFS we have to go through intensive screening and interviewing to become a host family as mandated by the State Department. It was interesting to learn that similar measures are not standard when sending a student from here overseas. I am writing this blog to let you know this and to take measures into your own hands if you do plan to send a child to study for a semester abroad.
It is typical for the students who have home stays to be placed by locals called placers. Often the same families are used year after year and semester after semester. They are found through a local referral network. Many of these host families do not speak any English. All is generally well and good but for me I needed to take the extra measure.
When we received the original placement for our daughter we literally got a typed list of names and addresses only 2 weeks before her departure. We had absolutely no information about the host family. What were they like? What could be expected? Again I requested more information from off campus housing and thus were provided with the name of the person currently living with the family. My daughter tried to contact her and initially didn't hear anything. We came to learn a week later and only about 3 days before departure that this house was far from campus, had no internet service and was away from the metro. In addition the family was comprised of an elderly woman and her middle aged son only. What type of living situation would this be for a young adult woman? We were told the mother spends much of her time watching TV in her bedroom. What did the son do?
Much of the safety information we had received said that the students should not travel alone. I was concerned about our daughter traveling alone each night since no one lived near her. The girl who lived in her apartment previously spent much of her time at a Starbucks near the university to do homework and then had to travel back to the apartment late at night. She often took taxis because it was far from the metro. How do we know the cab drivers are safe? I don't like my kids to travel alone at night by cab here at home never mind in a foreign land. The host family did not have internet access or a cell phone so how would we be able to communicate to be sure she was ok? I voiced my concerns again with the appropriate persons and they were most helpful to find a better situation for my daughter.
Well after much legwork I can happily say that my daughter is in a lovely location on the metro with internet access and a family comprised of a daughter close to her age. Thus far she is loving her experience...although she just learned there really are pickpockets in Barcelona today.
I have gained much insight into the study abroad process and have many tips for anyone contemplating this for their child. Please feel free to let me share any knowledge I have and to share anything you may have experienced in this blog. I want this to be helpful information for future study abroad prospects.