International study is among the most valuable experiences that can form part of a collegiate undergraduate education. Living and learning in a foreign country exposes students to divergent ways of thinking and living, providing an education in cultural diversity an end closely connected to the core ideals of a modern liberal arts education and thereby a new perspective from which one may better reflect upon and evaluate one’s own presuppositions, values and beliefs. It is both unsurprising and commendable, then, that the University, through the Office of International Programs, devotes considerable resources to encouraging and supporting those who seek to study abroad.
Nonetheless, it remains the case that Princeton’s engagement with study abroad is less substantial than that of many of our peer schools. While many Princetonians do travel abroad at some point during their undergraduate career, relatively few devote an entire semester to study abroad; rather, the norm is for students to limit their international activities to the summer months. Summer programs, however, are shorter than programs during the year and hence typically provide a more superficial engagement with the country of study. Of course, this is not to say that students are necessarily wrong to choose not to go abroad during the academic year the benefits of spending time on campus are numerous, and it is unsurprising that many would hesitate to forego an additional semester on campus. It is still worth examining, though, to what extent present obstacles to in-semester study abroad still exist.
In particular, there do not exist a substantial number of Princeton-run study abroad opportunities during the academic year. Undergraduates seeking to spend a semester abroad must enroll in separate programs not part of their overall Princeton curriculum. This difficulty is rendered especially acute by the fact that Princetonians are committed to producing independent work in their junior year the time during which students are most likely to study abroad and this commitment does not often fit well with a study abroad program.
It is implausible that, at least in the short term, the quantity of Princeton-run study abroad programs during the semester will substantially increase. In the meantime, though, OIP and, in particular, the University’s academic departments ought to do a better job of integrating study-abroad opportunities into their curricula. Some departments, such as English or Wilson School, already run exemplary programs in which junior independent work is incorporated into the study abroad academic curriculum. For smaller departments in which it may be impractical to run a program of this nature, stronger efforts should be made to work with study abroad programs to reduce the problems that may arise when academic work at foreign universities forms part of a student’s Princeton academic program.There are surely many factors that affect the decision whether or not to study abroad; for some students, it may be inevitable that the balance of reasons will favor remaining here. It would be unfortunate, though, if students otherwise interested in studying abroad chose not to because of these complications. Hence, we encourage academic departments to take a larger role in making study abroad feasible for their students.