Study abroad programs leave some students embittered

Editor’s note: This is the second in a five-part series exploring the disparities between how the College presents itself and the reality that students encounter on campus. In this article, The Dartmouth examines off-campus programs.

“The sociology department’s exchange program to Copenhagen is a waste of money and in need of thorough review,” Kapil Kale ’07 wrote in a column on The Dartmouth’s opinion page in October.

Kale, who participated in the University of Copenhagen exchange during Fall term, was not alone in expressing the negative sentiment.

Sociology professor John Campbell, who directs the department’s exchange program, received complaints within the first few weeks of the students’ arrival in Denmark. Criticism mainly concerned substandard accommodations and finances, as students found it unfair to pay full Dartmouth tuition to study at the university while resident students were attending the university free of charge.

Campbell, who has directed the program since its inception in 2000, said he did not receive complaints concerning the exchange until this year.

“This money thing has never come up before,” Campbell said.

The exchange program at the University of Copenhagen is just one example of an off-campus program that has drawn criticism from its participants, despite the College’s praise for the activities, in which half of all undergraduates participate at least once during their academic careers.

Maryanna Quigless ’07 said she felt unprepared when she arrived in Lyon for the French language study abroad program, where she said she was met with sub-par conditions.

“The school that we were at in Lyon was kind of dilapidated — we didn’t have heat for awhile and there were like 20 computers for 2,000 students,” Quigless said.

Housing was the problem for Kaethe Henning ’06, who participated in the London music foreign study program last spring. Henning, who lived in a dorm, said the facility’s dual role as a hostel was frustrating and disappointing.

While tuition was the major contention among the Copenhagen exchange students, they also expressed discontent with the quality of living conditions and the failure of the College to fully inform them of the independent nature of the program.

Russell Lane ’06 said he felt that his experience on the Copenhagen exchange would have benefited from better coordination with the College.

“There was no contact person to go to for anything, which we really were not prepared to deal with,” Lane said. “It was almost like they just threw you there on your own without any preparation.”

Lane also suggested that Dartmouth students would have preferred to live together rather than be assigned separate housing.

While students often express criticism of their off-campus study, avid praise far outweighs complaints.

“The opportunities that you have, you couldn’t find anywhere else,” Henning said.

Attempting to take full advantage of the opportunity, Ariella Bernkopf ’06 is currently on her third off-campus program, studying at Keble College in Oxford after having spent previous terms on the government FSP in London and the Italian LSA-plus in Rome.

“As I see it, when else can I live in a foreign country for three months, soak up the culture and atmosphere and then go home?” Berknopf said. “I definitely think that our abroad programs are one of the best parts of Dartmouth.”

The College’s commitment to off-campus study is manifest in its Committee on Off-Campus Activities, which reviews programs on a regular basis, according to John Tansey, the executive director of Off-Campus Programs. The Student Assembly is also invested in study abroad and plans to release a review of all off-campus programs later this term.

Regarding the controversial sociology exchange, Campbell said he is working with Tansey and the University of Copenhagen to refine the program.

“I hear these students and we’re doing the best we can to solve their problems,” Campbell said.

Campbell stressed the necessity of students’ being aware of the independence of exchange programs, adding that it can strongly affect their choice in off-campus study.

“Unlike FSPs, which people have described to me as Dartmouth bubbles, ours is not that. Ours is intended for people who are sort of independently-minded,” Campbell said.

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