Study abroad programs are often considered to be one of the hallmarks of a Liberal Arts education. It is a privilege, an educational experience that immerses students in other cultures and takes them outside their comfort zones. According to the Vassar Admissions website, “About 45 [percent] of Vassar Students spend a semester or a year abroad at another institution in the U.S. or abroad.” We at The Miscellany News believe that while the Vassar Office of International Programs has a good foundation for the Junior Year Abroad (JYA) process, the procedures the Office uses could and should be improved. With 357 sophomores having applied to study abroad and 321 having been approved this year, it has proven more difficult for the Office to distribute important information regarding the program. Earlier in the academic year, many students were unaware of the process’ timeline, including the dates of mandatory meetings. This year in particular, dates for these mandatory meetings were announced via email with at most one or two days’ notice. This did not give students adequate time to add these meetings to their schedules, and thus prevented many students from attending. Although the Office of International Programs’ website houses a timeline with important dates, deadlines and other essential information, not all students are aware of this resource. In addition to this, many of these meetings were scheduled in the afternoon and overlapped with class times, which also prevented students from getting the necessary study abroad information.
While many students are aware that studying abroad is an option, information on what programs are available to them, and how they can financially afford these programs, is not effectively disseminated. We recommend that the Office send out this information via email, in addition to holding the informational meetings. Furthermore, we also call for the Office to schedule informational meetings at various times throughout the day in order to give students with afternoon classes a variety of options for attending. We also ask the Office to announce these meetings at least one week in advance in order to give students adequate time to plan for these events. We understand that the Office of International Programs is small office with limited resources and only two administrators on staff. Furthermore, we also acknowledge that the Office is dependent on the actions and decisions of the Committee on Leaves and Privileges, so that any delays that occur on the Committee’s end will affect the productivity of the Office of International Programs. However, there are things that the Office can do to increase its own effectiveness. We recommend that the Office makes more use of the most plentiful resource available to them: the student body. With such a large portion of seniors that have gone JYA, there are many students who would be willing to answer smaller questions that the Office does not have time to deal with. A database listing the contact information of students who have gone through the specific programs would provide sophomores with a way to investigate their desired paths and gain anecdotal information that the Office might not have at its disposal.
In an interview, we were informed that individual appointments with the Office are highly recommended. However, if 45 percent of rising juniors study abroad, approximately 300students a year could clamor for an appointment. The Office of International Programs simply cannot have the time to effectively answer the questions of those 300 students in individual meetings. In this instance, we believe that the Vassar Student Association’s Peer Advisors system could be effectively utilized in order to answer questions about specific JYA programs. This being said, were the office to have a panel of students at JYA informational meetings, those meetings could be conducted much more effectively. The personal accounts of students who have previously studied abroad would lend more specific, experiential information regarding the various program options. There is often considerably more information available to students about the Vassar-sponsored programs, as they are the most heavily advertised and have already had their budget determined by the Vassar Financial Aid Office. Often, these programs can end up costing the student less money than had they stayed at Vassar for the semester. However, it is a different story should a student choose to do a Vassar approved, but not sponsored, program. For example, in the Oxford program, there is a six week spring break during which students are not provided with housing. Vassar does not cover personal travel expenses, so students who rely more heavily on financial aid could find themselves without a place to stay for that time. We again emphasize the importance of the Peer Advisor program; because the College has limited information on non-Vassar programs, seniors who have gone this route could provide important information.
Since the budgets of the Vassar-sponsored programs are determined by the Financial Aid Office, most necessities are covered (with the aforementioned exception of personal travel).However, students who wish to partake in non-Vassar programs must calculate their own expenses and submit their budget through the forms distributed by the Office of International Programs. Revised financial aid statements are not distributed until after students are accepted into their desired programs; therefore, for those who do apply for programs outside of Vassar’s involvement, it may become difficult to plan accordingly. We recommend more clarity about the financial logistics of study abroad early on in the process in order to make this academic experience available to as many students as possible. Ultimately, the Office of International Programs has a good foundation for providing the necessary information to students. However, we at The Miscellany News advocate for an expanded network of information regarding the programs, which would be aided by seniors who have finished the process. With a more streamlined system to distribute information as well as open communication regarding the factor of financial aid, we feel that the Office could facilitate a more informed and accessible study abroad experience.
—Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.