Study Abroad???

Last Sunday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a reception for parents of Admitted Students in the Diana’s beautiful Event Oval. I basically just “table-hopped” and introduced myself to prospective parents.  My initial fear that no one would want to talk to me or ask me any questions was completely unfounded!  In fact, I couldn’t get to everyone I wanted to chat with.

I had interesting conversations with moms and dads from all over the country whose daughters are considering (and I hope will choose) Barnard.  I got a lot of questions about my own daughter’s Barnard experience. Of these, I think the question asked most frequently was, “Did she study abroad?”  I was surprised that parents were thinking so far ahead, but it’s a great topic.

The answer to the question that seemed to be on everyone’s mind on Sunday is “Oui!”  My daughter spent second semester of her junior year in Paris, at Reid Hall - a very old Columbia-Barnard program, housed in a lovely building on the left bank.  At the outset, she went through several weeks of orientation and intense language instruction and then took classes at both the Sorbonne (in French) and at Reid Hall (in English).  She became fully immersed in Parisian life - sharing an apartment with a French law student, commuting each day by metro, exploring flea markets and museums, buying and cooking French food, gaining colloquial fluency in the language.  Her transformation into a self-reliant, independent adult was immediate.

If you think studying abroad is a euphemism for a non-stop party in a foreign city, think again – at least with respect to Barnard.  The college’s study abroad programs are academically rigorous and generally require proficiency in the language of the country a student plans to visit.  If you want to go to Italy, start studying Italian.  If you speak Spanish, and don’t want to learn another language, look for a program in a Spanish (or English) speaking country. Barnard women attend real classes at foreign universities, in the local language and are expected to submit essays and papers in that language.  They get help from tutors who read and comment on their work, and teach them how to conform to the prevailing “academic style.”  While I don’t doubt that Barnard students find time to party, their study abroad experience is much more than that.

My daughter grew and learned so much during her semester at Reid Hall that I sometimes ask myself whether it was essential to her education. It was wonderful, but, no, it wasn’t essential.  Many Barnard students study abroad, but just as many, if not more, do not. And they certainly don’t go away to “escape” from the tedium of a college town – the most exciting city in the world is right outside Barnard’s gates!  In the end, whether a Barnard student goes abroad, or doesn’t, every semester of her college career will be rich, stimulating and challenging.  There’s no doubt about that . . .