All aboard for AU abroad?

Semester at Sea discouraged

Starting next semester, the implementation of new policies through AU Abroad, the program formerly known as World Capitals, will change the study abroad experience.

While new sites will be opened in Mexico, Canada and the first ever Beijing spring semester, students will also be strongly discouraged from studying abroad with non-AU affiliated institutions, particularly University of Pittsburgh's Semester at Sea.

"We don't believe that traveling around the world on a boat and stopping at every port is the best way to give students the opportunity to know a different country," Vice President of International Affairs Robert Pastor said.

This change came as a shock to many who had planned to go on Semester at Sea in the spring.

"I felt betrayed by the school because it's not letting me go on the program that best fits my interests," junior Mike Fanelli said.

"It's unfair for them to tell us now that we can't go because it's too late to make new arrangements," junior Julie Berry said.

At least 11 students were planning on going to Semester at Sea in the spring. They will be meeting with Pastor to make sure their concerns are fully addressed.

The moratorium on Semester-at-Sea will take effect in fall 2004. However, AU is not, "prohibiting non-AU Abroad programs. In fact, we will permit people even beyond next fall to go to other programs if a compelling case can be made," Pastor said.

This change is just one implementation of a series of recommendations presented by a Project Team led by Pastor. In its report, the Project Team set goals for the expansion and revision of study abroad, which include doubling the percentage of students studying abroad in four years, greater integration between study abroad and a student's major, greater interaction with a local country and the creation of a total immersion foreign language program.

Though it will take a few semesters for full implementation, new AU scholarships should help fulfill the immediate goal of sending an additional fifty students overseas in the spring.

Many students said communication between AU Abroad and students was lacking on this issue.

Sophomore Lisa Pelletier, who plans on studying abroad, said, "I feel very frustrated that AU did not make the changes clear sooner, especially for those who are interested in study abroad in the spring."

A memorandum sent to the AU community on Aug. 25 outlined the general direction of AU Abroad.

Lawrence Ward, director of Undergraduate Programs at Kogod School of Business, said, "We haven't been explicit in stating the implications of AU Abroad as we could be. We must take it and put it in a language that our students can understand." An official statement is expected to help clarify and restate policy, Ward said.

Some members of the AU faculty agree the changes and doubling of AU Abroad sites will open new opportunities for students.

Dean Kay Mussell, of the College of Arts and Sciences, said faculty "find it very interesting to work with students who have studied abroad."

Ward said with AU Abroad, "there will be a lot more you can do with a lot less paperwork."

In fact, study abroad will become, as Amy Morrill-Bijeau, associate director of World Capitals said, "the cornerstone of the university's goal to be the premier international school in the world." It will take time before the administration, faculty and students fully understand the implications of the new policy changes, Ward said. In the meantime, Mussell said, "We will do what we can to make your study abroad work."

Ward also urged students not to be discouraged into "a sense of 'I can't go study abroad'" but to talk to their advisors who "may not be able to give the exact answers that students want to hear but should be provide new information to be excited about."

Pastor said for the changes to be successful, students must realize "this will not only enhance their educational experience but also enhance the reputation of their school." Student input is highly encouraged as students should think about where they want to go and make suggestions, to be well-informed, and to be enthusiastic that there will ultimately be, as freshman Katie Warren said, "more places for us to go for longer periods of time"

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