For abroad opportunities, students should look outside the Castle

We’ve heard the mantra over and over: Emerson College is an institution dedicated to innovation in communication and the arts. 

For the most part, I agree. Emerson is by no means a perfect institution, but the academic and professional opportunities I’ve had available for the past three years are a reflection of the unique environment the school fosters. My time in the Communication, Politics, and Law Association has taken me to New York City and Washington, D.C. to collaborate with some of the nation’s most prominent political and community leaders. Serving as a supervisor in the Office of Admission has provided professional development few undergraduates receive. These opportunities to make a difference in my community have been both fulfilling and influential in developing my career aspirations.

Yet there is a glaring omission in Emerson’s institutional repertoire: international study and civic engagement opportunities for students. Some might contend that the Kasteel Well Program provides just the right “taste” of Europe for Emerson’s students. But it’s naïve to think that one initiative can fit the needs of the entire student body. The program only has 80 spots available per semester and only allows students to remain abroad for 90 days. The class selection is limited, and for upperclassmen, few major classes are offered. Dutch, the native language of the Netherlands, isn’t even offered as an option for students seeking to connect with their community. For anybody looking for a more immersive experience, and perhaps one in an urban metropolis, the Castle is unlikely to maximize the usefulness of a student’s time abroad. 

As a result, many students (such as myself) decide to study through an external abroad program. Last spring, I studied in Florence, Italy through Lorenzo de Medici University. I was able to take Italian language courses, live in a bustling Italian city, take cooking courses, and study Italian literature and art in their respective birthplace. To say immersing myself in the culture enhanced my study abroad experience would be an understatement.

However, getting to Florence wasn’t easy. The Office of External Programs claims the process of receiving credit for non-Emerson abroad programs is straightforward. But speaking from personal experience, the process is far from clear-cut. From the registrar to the Dean’s office, there’s plenty of red tape waiting for students seeking a study abroad alternative. Having to go through an external program also complicates the issue of financial aid, as all students must pay out of pocket to attend the program they choose. As a school that emphasizes civic engagement and diversity, study abroad should not be a complicated process. These sorts of opportunities should be easier to come by. I am aware that Emerson offers more than just the Kasteel program. If Emerson says it’s dedicated to human diversity and preparing its students for the job market, providing a global perspective should be made easier. 

I will commend Emerson for taking some strides in the right direction with the Prague, Beijing, and Taipei programs. Unfortunately, due to high costs and low interest, a London theater program has now gone defunct. But if it wishes to be seen as a world-class educational institution, Emerson must aggressively work to improve its global engagement opportunities. I am aware this will not happen overnight, but I believe Emerson can take a page from other colleges and universities who faced these kinds of issues years ago. 

Many schools such as Chapman University offer “tuition exchange programs” through study abroad organizations like American Institute For Foreign Study, IES, or Athena Study Abroad. Students pay the price of their home university (keeping any financial aid they may have) and the respective study abroad organization benefits from higher enrollment via the partnership from the home institution. 

Colleges do not have to invest in expensive international locations and more importantly, students do not have to unenroll from their home institution. If Emerson were to partake in a program such as this, our international opportunities would expand significantly without the need to fulfill quotas or maintain a satellite campus. 

These study abroad organizations offer civic engagement focused international experiences as well. While I understand that not every student is service minded, the option should at least be available. “Civic engagement” is in the heart of Emerson’s mission, and there’s no excuse that an international engagement opportunity should not be available to students. 

My time at Emerson has been both professionally and personally rewarding. Although I wish my time abroad could have been more easily facilitated, I do not regret coming to Emerson or my decision to go abroad through an external program. I hope to see Emerson confront this issue within the next few years. As the Emerson institution becomes more synonymous with collegiate prestige, they will eventually have to address the matter to remain competitive. It is my hope they will not remain institutionally stagnant. Rather, I hope Emerson takes a step forward and takes action on behalf of global education.