Summer Classes Abroad Offer Students a Wider Worldview
Published: Monday, April 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
For most students, summer vacation is synonymous with a break from classes. Every year for approximately 300 Boston College students, however, the participation in University coursework continues. Instead of walking across campus to a classroom in Carney, though, they meet in locations like London, England, or Bangalore, India.
The Office of International Programs (OIP) offers summer seminars in locations throughout the world. The classes are taught by BC faculty, and count as course credit, with grades appearing on students’ transcripts and certain seminars counting toward major or core requirements.
These seminars are based on professor initiative, and are an opportunity not just for students, but also for the faculty to teach courses that truly interest them. Rev. Jeremy Clarke, who teaches a course in Beijing, China, says, “I am passionate about China and its history. Thus, teaching a summer course in Beijing was one way of sharing that passion with BC students. We will do a lot of field work, which we can’t do on the Heights, and it’s a chance to get to know each other as participants in the academic conversation in a more general yet personal way.” Abby Berenson, assistant director of International Summer and Service Programs, says, “Faculty submit proposals in the late spring, and we look at strategic interests and where we logically can support faculty and staff to go.” A committee then evaluates all proposals and decides on a list of approximately 30 seminars each year.
Unfortunately, Berenson notes that “each year, we have to cancel some,” as they need eight to 10 students to run, and demand can vary unpredictably. The program as a whole is very popular, though, especially certain courses, as Berenson explains that “the art courses are always popular, courses in Ireland and Italy tend to be well-attended, and interestingly the writing class in India, which is in its third year running, exploded with the amount of applicants.”
The benefits of international seminars are numerous. Professor Michael Cronin, who teaches an Irish Culture seminar in Dublin, says that he finds it valuable to be able to learn about a topic and then experience it firsthand, explaining, “Rather than talking in a Boston classroom about the landscape of the west of Ireland, I can do that here, and then take the students off to drive and walk around that landscape to understand it better.”
These courses serve many student needs. Berenson says, “When I first started, I think there was maybe a typical student who went, someone who had never been abroad before, or couldn’t go for the semester, whether it’s because they’re a premed, or an athlete, or have a GPA below the semester requirement.” Yet as the program has changed, so have its attendants. Some choose to go over the summer to fulfill course requirements outside of the academic year, as Lindsey Holder, LSOE ’14, says that she will be studying drawing in Venice because “I needed to fulfill my Arts core, and I thought I would get more out of a class abroad than I would from a class at BC.”
There has been a shift toward students choosing these programs, either because they are anxious to go and this is their earliest chance, or because they want to experience a less-traditional location for the summer. While many atypical study abroad locations, such as those in Asia and Africa, are offered for semester programs, many students are hesitant, and in a course of all BC students led by a University professor, these locations are more enticing. Lesley Norris, A&S ’14, who will be participating in the “Writing Out of Place: Creative Writing Workshop” seminar in India, explains that this was the case for her, saying that “I decided to do the program in India because I wanted the chance to go somewhere I knew I’d probably never get to go to again.”
The base of students attending summer seminars has also changed based on the expansion of available scholarships. Berenson says, “Three years ago, we only had one scholarship for the summer,” but with the recently added McGillycuddy Logue Travel Grant, over 30 students receive funding. Although financial aid carries over for semester and year-long study abroad programs, this is not the case with summer seminars, but with the expansion of scholarship opportunities, these classes are becoming more accessible.
While there is a wide range of offerings, Berenson hopes in the future to expand even more, noting that “I’d love to see more CSOM courses and econ courses, and there are currently no psychology classes on the list.” While she thinks that the program can always improve, it is already a great success, and a majority of students, after participating in an OIP summer seminar, report that they would like to go again. These courses may not be a break from schoolwork, but they are certainly a change from school, as students get to interact more closely with professors, become close with a group of about 10 students, and learn about a subject in context. For many, this is a unique chance to have an enjoyable but also productive summer.