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Helen Geckle / Gavel Media

The Subpar Study Abroad Process: Before and After

Before: 

The fall semester marks the beginning of the abroad application process, with decisions coming out in early spring. After hearing about juniors coming back with amazing stories and seniors raving about how it was the best part of their lives, sophomores start the abroad process excited—and anxious—to learn everything about Boston College's study abroad programs. Since abroad applications came out, sophomores have been able to reflect on whether the complicated application process was worth their while.  

The first step in the abroad process is to attend Study Abroad 101. These short info sessions are held either in person or online. Students will get the basics of the process and are told to make appointments with specific abroad advisors after researching the programs on the “My OGE” page. The “My OGE” page is what students might expect from a Boston College website. We’ve all heard the Eagle Apps horror stories. With limited information about the programs, “My OGE” is challenging to use. Often, links need to be updated, are broken, or take you to pages with irrelevant information. 

Once students have pieced together some idea of where they might want to go, the second step is to schedule a Study Abroad one-on-one. These meetings can fill up months in advance, and because you cannot apply for a program unless you meet with an advisor, it becomes a race to get a meeting. My first time walking to Hovey House was for my one-on-one. Students must walk past Mac—and face flashbacks of those Upper Stairs—to get to the Office of Global Education. Isolated from Main Campus, Hovey House is not an inviting space to walk into. After you check in for your appointment, students wait in a chair for, hopefully, someone who can give them clarity and support.

However, once you're brought into an advisor's office, you still aren't in the clear. Advisors often seem more interested in the programs they think are the best rather than taking time to listen to students' thoughts and concerns. Students often feel worse about their chances of getting into their desired program after leaving with echoes of "No, I don't think you could study abroad in France" and "Hey, maybe if your GPA was higher" looming in their heads.

And isn't that strange? Boston College boasts that almost 50% of its students study abroad, yet many sophomores have problems with how the office is run. Living in a new country is already overwhelming; new city, new people, same you. The Office of Global Education needs to do more to assuage students’ fears. Not only is living in a new country you chose stressful, but what about if you don’t get placed somewhere you want?

Boston College has a very competitive study abroad application process. A select number of students are allowed to attend each program, and since the school has to split students up equally, you might not even get to go the semester you want. This year, students were repeatedly told to apply for the fall semester if they tried to get the program they wanted; “Spring is much too competitive.” The advisors scared enough students that the fall semester had more applicants than the spring. 

At other schools, students do not agonize over abroad decisions. Over winter break, I spoke with my friends that had gone to state schools about how stressed I was about where I would end up abroad. They were shocked. They could sign up for whatever program they wanted and were guaranteed to go. Not to mention, it was a given that the classes they took would transfer over for credit.

Boston College boasts about how many students get the opportunity to study abroad but limits them by not allowing credits to transfer from international institutions. The administration creates restrictions on something that should be available to all students. Going abroad should be an exciting time for BC students, yet the Office of Global Education does little to make the process transparent and calming.

After:

The email from the Office of Global Education asking for a program evaluation landed in my inbox before I had a chance to even consider letting go of my grudge. I went to the University of Amsterdam program during the 2022 fall semester—an option that was not even located on my list of six that is required of all applying students. 

Thankfully, I had a wonderful time. I did not allow BC’s lack of guidance to overshadow the vibrant, accepting, and unique nature of the city I was living in. Guided by a document put together by a program alum that I happened to have access to through a friend, I was able to make the most of my five months in the Netherlands. I took interesting classes populated by extremely diverse groups of students and traveled throughout the continent with friends I had luckily met during the first few days. However, I believe I got lucky because none of the memories or experiences I had were facilitated by the Office of Global Education. I owe none of my positive experiences to them.

I remember about two weeks before I left, people kept asking me if I was excited. I would look at them stoically and tell them I had mixed feelings, mostly because I was only going in with an apartment address and my two suitcases. I was given no information on meeting other BC students, becoming adjusted to the city, navigating public transportation, or what the area I would be living in was like. I was essentially going in blind and had it not been for the wonderful acquaintance who offered me some advice, I would have had no idea what I was doing, in a country where I did not speak the language.

Throughout my five months abroad, I only became friends with one other BC student despite there being nine others in Amsterdam. In the last couple of weeks, people have told me they had friends who were abroad in the same city, and when I ask for their names, they don’t often ring a bell. I hate to think that I missed out on meaningful relationships simply because of the failures of the OGE. I understand not all programs are the same, but what I believe to be unjustifiable is not being transparent with students about the lack of support they will receive. Considering that I was paying tuition to BC, I expected to receive the bare minimum. They managed to not even give us that, settling for a bi-monthly email and the audacity to ask for a review afterward. 

I will always recommend taking a semester to go abroad; it was an incredible experience that I wish I could have again, however, I cannot in good conscience say anything positive about the OGE. The kind of experience each person has abroad is contingent on their own willingness to try new things and the help given to them by the program managers who are supposed to be helpful. Students should be aware of the kind of program they are applying for, lest they end up in one that leaves them feeling stranded and alone.

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Bleachers music enthusiast and hammocking fanatic. Hoping to make the world a better place through oxford commas, feminism, and bagels.

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