The allure of studying abroad, of escaping campus and being immersed in a new country, community, and language, has always been especially strong at the U of C, where many students choose to spend a quarter or more outside Hyde Park. The Study Abroad office has typically met this demand, offering a wide selection of over 40 programs. Currently, however, the diversity of options is lacking: There are 20 University-run Europe programs and four University-run programs in Asia, but only one University-run program in both Africa (Cairo) and Latin America (Oaxaca). And with the recent discontinuation of the Cape Town program, an already slim offering in Africa has been even further diminished. The Study Abroad office must make increasing African and Latin American opportunities its first priority.
The Oaxaca program remains the U of C’s only University-run Latin American study abroad option. Both of the other available programs—in the Dominican Republic and Guanajuato—are not University-run. With its large Latin American Studies program, the University should have no doubt that students would have a strong interest in additional study abroad options in Latin America, and more specifically, should look to establish programs in South America, where it currently has no offerings.
There is a similar dearth of study abroad options in the University’s African civilizations program. Due to the suspension of the Cape Town program, there is now not a single African civilizations program located on the continent. Beside the African civilizations program located in Paris, the only remaining opportunities with a focus on African studies are the autumn Tanzania program and the winter Botswana program. Both of these opportunities are affiliated, and neither fulfills the civilization requirement for the College.
The Cape Town program was the oldest and most established U of C program in Africa. The Cairo program—the second-oldest and now the only remaining civilizations offering in Africa—focuses on Middle Eastern civilization and has experienced instability in recent years; this past winter’s program was conducted entirely in Morocco. Granted, the Study Abroad office cannot be accused of having a Eurocentric agenda: the recent opening of the 23,000-square-foot center in Beijing illustrates the Study Abroad office’s commitment to expanding beyond England, France, and Spain. Nevertheless, more work should be done to sustain our presence in Africa and Latin America in order to ensure that students’ diverse interests are met as fully as possible.
The University should first look to reinstitute a program in South Africa—though a large portion of its faculty will no longer be able to participate, it still has a decade-old infrastructure set up with respected local universities, academics, and NGOs. Students spent time in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and were one of few study abroad groups in the world who had permission to spend weeks in Kruger National Park. Such benefits are hard to construct from scratch, and the Study Abroad office would do well to capitalize on already existing connections.
If continuing a South African program is impossible, the Study Abroad office should look to create other civilization programs in Africa. Unfortunately, instead of establishing a new program in Africa itself, the most serious proposal under consideration is focused on expanding the African civilizations in Paris program. This is perhaps the least desirable option possible: having the Paris program take an excursion to Senegal is a pale substitute for spending two months on the continent and fully engaging with local culture and history.
The Civ requirement is predicated on the study of the world’s greatest civilizations, and, more importantly, on “direct encounters with some of its most significant documents and monuments”. If the Study Abroad office and the University want to ensure balance among European, African, Asian, and Latin American programs, they need to focus on providing these direct experiences within each continent, rather than outside it.
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