Interest in diversity draws more students abroad

By Daniel Gilbert

With some 345 students studying abroad during the current academic year, more students are choosing to study abroad in the College, according to Academic Director of Study Abroad Programs Lewis Fortner.

The quarter-long civilization programs—through which Chicago has sent 211 students to such locations as Barcelona, Oaxaca, Rome, and Paris this year—have been the most popular. Other students who study abroad will enroll in one-quarter language immersion programs, year-long programs, or special programs such as the London Program for British Literature, or the Paris Program for Social Sciences.

Though traditionally the most popular locations have been Paris, France and Seville, Spain student interest for programs here has declined. This year only six students will complete the year in Paris, while only two will do so in Seville. The oldest programs—the year-long stays in Paris and Bologna—generally enroll an average of 15 students per year. This year’s total of six students enrolled is the lowest in the history of these programs, instituted in 1983. They peaked in popularity in the 1995-1996 school year. Last year, some 14 Chicago students spent the year in Paris, while nine stayed a year in Seville.

The number of participants in year-long programs has increased, though Fortner is hesitant to say by how much at this point. Those who choose to spend a year abroad represent the smallest group of students who study abroad, a scant 10 percent, while those who enroll in a civilization program constitute more than 60 percent.

Carolyn Silveira, a second-year in the College concentrating in English, will spend next year in Seville. She described her decision as a “somewhat tortured one,” citing in comparison the appealing time-spans and exotic locations of some of the civilization programs. In choosing Spain, Silveira is looking for a life-enriching experience.

“This is a safe way to drop myself into an extremely challenging situation,” Silveira said. “I doubt I’d just jump on over to Europe and live there on my own after school.” She said she thought that the year-long program would help her feel more prepared.

Kevin Newman, a second-year in the College concentrating in Spanish, will also spend next year in Seville. Newman feels that a year abroad will not only allow him to become familiar with Seville, but will also give him the opportunity to explore various regions within Spain, and perhaps other European countries.

“I’d really like to be able to observe first-hand a lot of the cultural diversity in a place like Spain,” Newman said. “It’s the perfect place for a Spanish major to spend a year abroad.”

Spanish Language Coordinator Maria Lozada viewed the increased interest in the Seville program as evidence of the growing importance of Spanish in the United States.

“The most important thing that the students will take away from their experiences is having an authentic cultural experience,” Lozada said.

Students who have completed a year abroad are enthusiastic about their experiences. Isabel Gomez, a fourth-year in the College, spent last year in the Seville program. Gomez emphasized how the cultural immersion added depth to her education, and offered her the chance to perfect her Spanish skills. Above all, Gomez believes that a year abroad is a time for personal growth.

“The thing about being in a foreign country for a long time is that it pushes you to become fearless,” Gomez said.

Marian Livingston, a fourth-year concentrating in biology, spent last year in Paris. Livingston did not feel compelled to take any biology courses, but expanded her academic horizons, taking Islamic and European Civilization, a course on religion and photography. For Livingston, the greatest gain from her experience was knowledge of a different place and culture.

“You really feel like you conquer the city,” Livingston said. “When you know radio stations, and television channels, you have the kind of knowledge that makes you feel like you could go back and slip right into the rhythm of things.”