Study Away, Study Abroad: Making the Most of It

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Matthew Meyer ’12

Maryann Tebben leads the discussion in the Study Away Preparation course.

Bard College at Simon’s Rock is full of opportunities for students to customize their education. Some students like the traditional class with a professor in the lead and a trusty textbook to back him up. Others prefer to think independently and to interpret subjects on their own. Still others would rather head outside into the real world to get their hands dirty. Simon’s Rock can accommodate all of these learning styles, including encouraging students to venture off campus entirely.

The decision to go abroad. Planning for study abroad, says Sue Lyon, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs “always starts with the academic advisor.” Sue explains, “Students talk about their interests with their advisor and begin to research the options. Their advisor will make sure they consider how the experience integrates into their resumes, their thesis, and their careers.”

Juniors and “rising” juniors (students who are on track to complete their AA) are eligible to apply to study away. The planning process starts after Moderation when the student has decided to stay at Simon’s Rock to get their BA.

“We have an entire area here in Liebowitz devoted to Signature Programs (designed by the College) and other programs.” Said Maryann Tebben, Emily Fisher Faculty Fellow and professor of French. “We also have information on the CampusGuides, where anyone can access it online. We can usually connect students with someone who’s been to the program they plan to attend.”

The most popular international Signature Programs are Simon’s Rock Scholars at St Catherine’s College, Oxford and Chinese Language Study at Qingdao University. Domestically, the most popular program is Simon’s Rock/Columbia University Engineering Program.

Students are free to think about any of the programs we have, any they’ve found, or to think up an independent project on their own. 

LTSA-2.jpgHammering out the details. Students are given a great deal of freedom to decide what program would help them in their studies and where they want to go, while Maryann and Sue are “always ready for questions.”

Sue clarifies the process that takes students from ‘I’d really rather be in Beijing’ to heading off to the airport. “It’s fun to explore new places, but we want to make sure everything is in order,” she says.

Two years ago the College introduced two new courses to formalize the planning and reintegration processes. Study Away Preparation prepares students for their leave and Study Away Reflection helps students maintain contact with the Simon's Rock community while away and transition successfully back to campus upon their return.

“The goal of the program is to get you ready to go abroad,” explains Maryann. “The prep class gives students ‘nuts and bolts’ information and makes sure they understand the cultural differences of the country they will be visiting.

Tebben continues, “We make sure students understand the financial aid implications – what travels with them and what kicks in when they return. We make sure they understand the passport and visa requirements, and insurance coverage. We go over packing, checking baggage versus carry on, what to bring and what to buy.”

Students going off campus but staying in the U.S. also benefit from this support. Junior Bethany Geiger, who is embarking on a semester-long internship with Little Golden Books (a division of Random House) in New York City confirms this. “The prep class has been extremely helpful. It covers a lot of things that you would normally learn while traveling, or on your own time -- like where the nearest health care center will be located. Sue and Maryann are very understanding and they work with students so that the class better fits their schedule.”

Staying connected with life at the Rock. “We have ways to connect to students once they leave,” says Sue. “Yammer (a Simon’s Rock specific social media site), and e-mail are our big ones, and there’s always the phone or SKYPE.”

While away, students complete eight of out ten tasks and blog about their experience on Yammer. Tasks include introducing yourself, identifying slang words, asking for directions, and asking locals about their views on U.S. politics. Or making up your own task! Each student is paired with a faculty member who reads and comments on the student’s blog. But anyone with a Simon’s Rock email can read the blog posts and chime in.

“The main thing I enjoyed about the blogging assignment was getting feedback from the professors,” said senior Hillary Saviello. “I attended a dinner with the Oxford Media Society. A few students and I chatted with Lord Guy Black, Conservative member of the House of Lords -— which given my concentrations in Politics & Communications was a near ideal person for me to talk to about career experience.”

Hillary added, “As the token 'American' I was grilled about the US election. It was an odd situation, coming from Simon's Rock, to be the only left-wing and American person at the meal, and many people commented on my Yammer piece about what an interesting alternative that must be, and I remember Sue Lyon commending me for handling that situation very diplomatically.”

Not everyone was happy about having tasks and writing assignments. “If you’re shy, the tasks might force you out of your comfort zone,” said senior Laura Fisher. “I wasn’t looking forward to blogging while I was away, and most of the ‘tasks’ happened pretty naturally for me. But afterward, it was pretty interesting to go back and ‘verbalize’ the experience.”