The surface benefits of studying abroad are obvious: getting out of your comfort zone, learning another language, experiencing another way of life and transcending cultural boundaries. But if so much is to be gained, why don’t more Binghamton University students study abroad?
BU aspires to be a globally-minded university. We do really well when it comes to international students coming here. But we’re suffering from a poor exchange rate.
Certain majors and departments do better than others in enabling students to easily study abroad. The English department, for instance, has a well-regarded study abroad program in London that gives English majors the opportunity to take classes that fulfill requirements for the major, study with other English majors and travel with a BU English professor.
But it’s a mistake to think that study abroad is or should be exclusively for liberal arts majors. In fact, we’d especially like to see more programs enabling students majoring in disciplines like math and the sciences the opportunity to study abroad. Isn’t math the universal language?
For some students, taking an entire semester away from Binghamton is an obstacle. Some majors and tracks require that certain courses be taken consecutively. Studying abroad for a semester could disrupt students’ academic paths. For this reason, we would like to see more summer and winter break study abroad opportunities. The University could further incentivize these short-term study abroad programs by having them fulfill major or general education requirements.
We need more classes like Biology 472: Tropical Ecology and Conservation, which travels to Costa Rica for a week over spring break to see up close the tropical ecology students study in class. Or the winter School of Management abroad program to India, which looks at the country’s economy and society. These trips give context and another dimension to class material and don’t compromise an entire semester.
There are a lot of benefits to having future doctors study medicine in the Third World, or future engineers study buildings in Europe. Shorter programs would enable students from math- and science-oriented departments to take full advantage of these opportunities without disrupting sequential courses. There are currently no programs in place for students in the Watson School of Engineering to study abroad; the website for the engineering school simply tells interested students choose their program carefully.
Until the University comes up with more short-term programs for the mathematically- or scientifically-minded among us, students might as well follow Watson’s less than helpful advice and find a program at another school or within SUNY System Abroad, the SUNY-wide database.
As Nicholas Kristof wrote in his piece “Go West, Young People! And East!” in yesterday’s The New York Times, “it makes no sense to study Spanish on a college campus when it is so much cheaper and more exhilarating to move to Bolivia, study or get a job and fall in love with a Bolivian.”
While all that may be overly idealistic, the truth is, most of us Binghamton University students only know life in New York. We hail from downstate, Rochester, Syracuse or sometimes even foreign lands like New Jersey. Going abroad is our chance to see the world before we likely get jobs in — you guessed it — New York. It’s important that, before the workplace sucks us in and the concept of travel becomes, ahem, foreign, we seize the day and travel. It doesn’t have to mean a whole semester. It can even mean two weeks. Regardless, go forth and Instagram. You’ll thank us later.