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Friday, Sep 29, 2023

Road Abroad Hardly Paved in Gold

Author: Ian Ausprey

Sophomores may remember the massive study abroad information session last fall in which David Macey proudly promised a packed Wright Theatre that anyone can study abroad. At Middlebury College, his pledge seems well founded with over 60 percent of the junior class away for at least one semester and numerous Middlebury schools abroad and affiliated programs sprinkling the globe. However, I wish to argue that study abroad at Middlebury severely discourages students wishing to pursue a non-language curriculum abroad, and, more disturbingly, indirectly discriminates against students receiving Middlebury-based financial aid.

I wish to first acknowledge that Middlebury College offers a quality selection of programs that account for aid packages in their fees. The C.V. Starr Schools as well as exchange programs in Japan, China, England and selected others offer excellent opportunities. However, all programs in Australia, New Zealand, the British Isles (excepting the Nottingham and East Anglia exchanges), Asia outside of China and Japan, all School for International Training (SIT) programs and any non Middlebury affiliated European programs are not granted Middlebury grants and loans. Federal aid does follow the student to any region of the globe, but this is restricted to around $4,000 in loans plus work-study grants that can't even be used at most programs as applicable jobs are generally not available.

For those of you who receive an aid statement each semester, the Middlebury College Grant that makes study here for you possible is entirely funded by the College and therefore ineligible for non Middlebury study abroad program costs. Despite the College's lack of enthusiasm to fund programs it obviously considers below its financial standards, it still accepts credit from programs in all of the previous regions. By granting credit to any study abroad school/program, Middlebury effectively states its own academic equality with that school/program and therefore must continue appropriate financial assistance. The current economic discrimination occurring at Middlebury College indirectly prevents students of low economic circumstance from obtaining an equal study abroad experience as their full tuition paying peers. This is not only wrong, but unjust, contradicting the elemental notion of equal opportunity through institutional financial assistance.

Secondly, Middlebury College only grants credit for study in non English speaking countries in the context of language acquisition. Middlebury currently requires intermediate language ability for study in a country whose language is taught at the College. For students with no foreign language experience in high school, this entails completing five semesters of a Middlebury language course, a significant portion of one's academic career, especially if language study is not a primary academic interest. Such can be applied to science majors who face a dense course load and who wish to study abroad for research instead of cultural opportunities. For example, the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) program in intensive tropical field biology offered by Duke University cannot be approved for non Spanish language students because it is taught in Costa Rica. The fact that OTS classes are in English and that its purpose is biology and not language seems forgotten by the College, which immediately assumes its location in a Latin American country warrants application of the language policy. By not granting credit to such a program, Middlebury College is effectively telling science students that their vocation is unequal to language/cultural studies in the study abroad context. If Middlebury College truly acted upon academic equality it would realize that Costa Rica is a laboratory in which to study a foreign ecosystem rather than a foreign society.

The Study Abroad Office's solution for students without a foreign language (especially for those in the sciences) is to advertise schools in Australia and New Zealand. But remember, if you are a financial aid student, you may not be able to afford a semester in one of those countries, let alone expect any financial sympathy from your home institution.

So what is a monolingual, economically stressed individual to do? Most likely stay in Vermont. And this is good news for the College. Concern has been expressed that too much of the junior class is leaving campus each year. And while many students simply don't wish to study abroad, it would be deeply saddening to know that Middlebury College was using economic disadvantage to ensure a healthy junior representation.

The only way to curb the inequalities associated with study abroad is to discuss them with your advisors, department chairs and appropriate administrators. Otherwise, when next year's sophomore class receives the jubilant promise by Middlebury College that everyone can study abroad, remember that the road from Vermont to the world may not be as golden as it seems.