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A Closer Look at The "Study" in Study Abroad

Studying abroad is a rite of passage at Boston College. As soon as fall of sophomore year rolls around, the vague plans of going abroad expressed during freshman year solidify into meetings with the Office of International Programs and Facebook declarations of travel plans for the next academic year. As students, we question where we will live, what the country is like, what our living expenses will be, where else we can travel to from our temporary universities, which clubs we can join, and just how we will fit everything necessary for living in the limited number of suitcases we can carry. Yet something is overlooked in the whirlwind of moving to a new country for a semester, summer, or year: What will the education actually be like?

By most accounts, the major academic difference between U.S. university systems and foreign systems is the amount of coursework. Some abroad programs are specifically designed to be taken by American students, and thus are very similar to an average semester at BC. However, in most programs, BC students are fully integrated into the university of the country they are visiting. This means a more independent course of study, in which students are assessed on a few assignments and a final exam. Accordingly, many find it more difficult to develop relationships with their professors. Nick Gozik, Director of the Office of International Programs and the McGillycuddy-Logue Center for Undergraduate Global Studies, highlights the differences between BC faculty and faculties elsewhere: “U.S. faculty, particularly at a place like Boston College, tend to see their role as extending beyond lectures. In other countries, there is often more of a distance between faculty and students.”

This does not mean it is impossible to develop a relationship with your professor abroad—it just means that you will have to work harder to do so. Christina Hatzipetros, Associate Director for Education Abroad as well as an expert in Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Europe, recommends “that students work on developing a relationship with their professors abroad just like they would here on campus. It is expected that relationships will be more formal [than those in the] US, especially in parts of East Asia.”

Katherine Reynolds, MCAS '17, studied at the Universidad Pontificia de Comillas in Madrid and says the following of her experience: “I felt that I spent less time on academic work than I do at BC because I didn’t have nightly assignments. I think there was more of an expectation that you would teach yourself the material. I don't feel like I got to know any of my professors, nor do I feel like any of them even knew my name.”

Generally speaking, students in foreign countries also have a more focused course of study; they take courses in one or two subjects for the entirety of their university careers. This means that while students from foreign countries get to know their particular course of study quite well, they do not get as varied an education as the liberal arts model provides.

Gozik says that despite these differences, “BC students tend to do well. They are good students who are used to working hard. At the beginning they do sometimes struggle with the fact that they are given less information about assignments, sometimes without any sort of syllabus. They are also used to having more assignments due. In the end, they typically recognize that the expectations of learning on assignments is just as high, if not higher, [than at BC].”

Boston College offers its students courses of study in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Latin America, Oceania, the Caribbean, and even away at sea. The most popular programs are those in Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Ireland, France, and Australia. Even though most of the popular programs are centralized in Western Europe, there is a great diversity of programs to choose from, including three new programs at the National University of Singapore, the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, and the American University in Sharjah, U.A.E. 

Another lesser known BC program is one offered in Kathmandu, Nepal. “Students register for a six-credit course instructed by a Buddhist monk, or "khempo," in classical Tibetan language,” Hatzipetros says. “Through simultaneous interpretation, students follow the teachings of their instructor while also following the tradition of taking their shoes off and sitting on pillows on the classroom floor.”

No matter where BC students choose to go, the Office of International programs gives two cautions to those hoping to study abroad: First, look into scholarships and grants early, and second, meet with advisors for tailored advice on specific programs.

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