Director of Study Abroad Jacqueline Levine is enthusiastic about her job, to say the least. Levine, fresh off of a trip to Istanbul, Turkey and Tbilisi, Georgia, underscored the importance of planning ahead and the feasibility of pre-med and engineering majors going abroad.
How did you get your position?
I was very lucky. I had been a graduate student here and was also working in the Center for Academic Support. The woman who was working with study abroad programs left to take a position with Admissions, and because I had lived in France and went to a university there, I was asked to take on the programs.
How do you choose new areas and new programs?
I think that the most important thing is to provide programs that are the most relevant to Rochester students’ needs and interest. For example, the new public health majors have drawn us to look at new opportunities in Denmark and Southeast Asia. We are members of several different international education consortia. One of them, IES, has been expanding from Europe to Asia to Latin America and, finally, to Africa. Their new programs in both Morocco and South Africa are going to be very popular.
What’s really interesting is that we are focused on geographic areas. But that doesn’t mean just because we have a lot of programs in Europe doesn’t mean we wouldn’t add a program in Europe if it were relevant.
The program that we are looking at in Denmark, for example, has an enormous public health component. It has courses for pre-meds.
They’re doing something specific. It’s called an island program. The courses are taught in English.
What’s the greatest myth about going abroad?
I think that the greatest myth about going abroad is that ‘I can’t go abroad because I am pre-med.”
This is something that pre-med students believe and you talk to any medical school admissions people and they detail the reasons why they are interested in students who have had these kinds of experiences. They look for people who can think on their feet, who have a broader view of problem solving.
Just to make a distinction, so for programs such as the new one in Cape Town, South Africa, UR students are going to these universities to take classes?
This is a very important distinction. There are a lot of different methods. The island program is set up for an American student to go and study in a country either in English or in the language of the country but where they are only with other American students [not necessarily with students just from their own University].
For all UR programs, we havelooked at all of these programs and we have said yes, this is a program that we want ourselves to affiliate with.
How can science majors study abroad?
Another issue that can develop with science and engineering majors, if they start investigating this opportunity by the end of the sophomore year, or the beginning of the junior year it really can be too late to go abroad for a semester. Because in that case, you have not had the opportunity to move some things around to the best of your ability.
Or for pre-meds, to consider biting the bullet and taking the pre-med over the summer, so that you can move the bio course off to one side and you can have a whole semester of studying art and you can still graduate on time. You can do that.
Study abroad takes more planning than some students are used to.
Are there any other cool programs in the pipeline?
They have just developed a study abroad program in Istanbul. They used to have in the capital Ankara but they moved it to Istanbul. Sometimes study abroad programs move around just because they can’t attract students to the locality.
I think Ankara was just not as much on people’s radar as Istanbul. It’s a very, very happening city. The political and religious debates going on there are fascinating. There are at least two schools in Istanbul that are teaching the sciences in English.
We don’t really look at the corner of the world where we can do things but rather at the corner of the student. What do you want to do?
Do you see a value in having an internship versus taking classes at a university?
Absolutely. It’s really what the students want. I’ve talked to students and I’ve said, “Hey, you want to go to London, and there are these three great opportunities there, now since you are interested in politics we have this great internship in the British Parliament.’
The students will say, “I don’t want to do an internship.’ Not everyone is ready to take that on. A lot of times, students want to go to something that is more structured.
An internship or an international work experience is really for someone who already knows they don’t need or want a certain amount of structure. In a course, you are going to get a syllabus and you know what’s going to happen. In an internship you don’t know what’s going to happen.
What are the merits of the summer versus a semester abroad?
I find that, particularly, when I talk to a student who is a language major and they go on, say, a three-or-four week language program, and they come back and I say, “OK, you went to Ecuador for the summer, why don’t you go to Chile for the semester or Madrid?’
They say, “Oh but I’ve already been abroad.’
If you really want to gain a maximum benefit, a year is optimal. A summer program is basically an introduction. You get out of it what you get out of it. But I really like to see students who can go abroad for the semester go abroad for the semester.
Why it’s a bad idea financially to study abroad in the summer?
One of the issues I raise with students who say, “Oh I can go abroad in the summer,’ I point out that four to eight weeks that you take out you are paying extra money for credits that you probably don’t need.
Its one thing if you are behind on credits. But, if you are on top of your credits you buying credits, that you’re don’t need and you’re giving up income and internship experience.
So I think that if students can combine study abroad with a semester that is ideal.
What has been the trend of the number of students studying abroad in recent years compared years farther back?
We saw a dramatic increase in the number of students studying abroad last year. That has certainly been part of a conscious plan.
That being said, the number of students who were abroad this fall compared to the fall of 2008 is only marginally higher.
I think that what’s going to happen is that we had that large number of students come back from study abroad and filter throughout the classes and the College.
The student who goes abroad and comes back is the pebble in the pond.
Shulman is a member of
the class of 2013.
Willis is a member of
the class of 2011.