I woke up in a cold sweat, jumped out of my covers and ran to the window. What I saw wasn’t a grove of cherry trees or the steeple of Green Hall, but the snow-covered streets of Newcastle, England. At that moment I realized the nightmare was real. Despite all my efforts, the International & Off-Campus Programs office had left me virtually alone in England.
The College boasts about its well rounded students and all the opportunities it has to offer them.
At an open house prior to my enrollment, I was assured studying abroad was strongly encouraged and extremely popular. Brochures listing hundreds of cities and displaying the Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum and Big Ben, drew me in and never let go. Not until two years later did I realize the nightmare I would encounter in my pursuit of this experience and these landmarks.
My initial appointment with the office was discouraging. Every destination I was considering presented a problem or was no longer offered. Aware of program cuts in an attempt to present students with schools “equally as challenging as the College,” I tried to be patient. However, after inquiring where I could take classes for my major and asking for an estimate of costs and credit information, and being told to “refer to the Web site,” I was not convinced of the new system’s superiority.
If I wasn’t waiting for an hour to be seen, the department was making excuses for its lack of answers, and even telling me to call England myself. Their lack of knowledge about my top location choices caused me to settle on the university most mentioned – the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, England.
Surely if they were pushing this location, they should have basic information and a contact to discuss any concerns with. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. As I handed in my check and application, I knew little more about the school in England than I did about how crazy the people there were.
When I arrived in Newcastle I expected International & Off-Campus Programs to have tied up all loose ends. Instead, it was uncertain when my room would be ready, I had missed mealtime (a short, one-hour block) and worst of all, my class schedule was never finalized.
Nearly all of the 20 courses I got approved were not being offered or space was limited. I wondered if Global Studies could hear me screaming all the way back in New Jersey.
Good friends of mine attending other schools like Northwestern University, Muhlenberg College and Syracuse University also opted to study abroad during their junior year, but lucky for them, their experience was totally different.
Not only had their colleges and universities put on detailed and informative sessions prior to their application deadline, they also held an orientation and hosted numerous opportunities to meet other students who would be going to the same destination.
Their equivalent of Interational & Off-Campus Programs booked a discounted group flight for the students, put them up in hotels if they chose to look for apartments abroad as opposed to using university housing and had advisers available on site in case of any initial problems. In addition, both daily excursions and longer trips were planned at a discounted price, and special dinners were offered to give students a place to share experiences.
The College didn’t do as much as meet with us once prior to our departure.
Despite all obstacles, my classmates and I did enjoy our experience abroad – no thanks to the College. Although I agree that the office is understaffed and probably under-funded, it was flat-out uninformed, which is inexcusable.
A recent Facebook group titled “Study Abroad: Hate it/Love It.Tell Someone” already has 42 members, all with negative feedback to offer.
If the department had spent half the time it wasted making excuses for its lack of knowledge actually doing its job, chances are I wouldn’t be inviting everyone I know to join the Facebook group.