The vast majority of the 57 percent of Georgetown University students who study abroad create life-long memories, like eating dumplings in Taiwan or enjoying tapas and sangria in Madrid.
As the leaves turn and the summer air drifts into a crisp breeze, sophomores on the Hilltop are starting to ponder the idea of going abroad and experiencing a highly anticipated semester or year of traveling, learning a new language and making friends.
Regarded as an internationally oriented institution, Georgetown invests in such programs through its Office of Global Education (OGE) and even owns the Villa le Balze, an idyllic haven for students interested in studying in Florence, Italy.
Ann Oldenburg, a journalism professor who teaches a summer course in Florence, said she can’t speak more highly of the summer program and experiences students gain from it, particularly local cultural experiences in historic Florence.
“If you think about journalism, it offers you a chance to write about anything. So for us, that meant going to visit a vineyard and having a wine tasting, and then learning how to cook pasta sauce, which is one of the favorites with students,” Oldenburg told The Hoya.
“We also went to La Academia to see the David statue because there’s a lot of stuff we could write about that. The excursions are meant to take advantage of all the art and all the culture that’s there,” she added.
The OGE at Georgetown offers 213 programs in 57 countries, ranging from Copenhagen to Doha. More than 1,000 undergraduate students chose to study abroad in the 2017-2018 school year, making it a rather common practice for students at the university.
Study abroad programs are offered for the Fall, Spring and Summer semesters, as well as a myriad of full-year programs, including in Buenos Aires, Tokyo and France. The fall and spring programs are the most popular, with the summer term following close behind, according to OGE.
As of the 2018-19 school year, the most popular places to study abroad for Georgetown students were in Europe; Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy and France topped the list, with other popular locations including China, Australia, Ecuador and Jordan.
Accessibility of Study Abroad
According to OGE, Georgetown seeks to make study abroad an experience possible for any student interested.
In pursuit of this goal, financial aid “travels with” students studying abroad, meaning if students receive financial aid at Georgetown, they can receive this same aid abroad, according to Georgetown’s Office of Student Financial Services.
However, if a student chooses to study abroad during the summer, financial aid is limited, causing problems for students who may not be able to go abroad during the school year due to their class schedule or work commitments.
Oldenburg said OGE is trying to remedy this problem. While they used to only allow students to enroll in one course at a time during the summer term at the Villa le Balze, now students can choose to take up to two, which in turn enhances financial aid accessibility.
“When it was just my course, ability to get financial aid was an issue that students dealt with. They were hoping to get it and couldn’t,” Oldenburg said. “This past summer, with two classes, OGE told me it’s more advantageous for financial aid, but I don’t know all the particulars of that.”
OGE declined to interview with The Hoya on study abroad programs and financing.
Members of the campus community have varying opinions when it comes to summer programs. While some have studied abroad during that time and had a great experience, others comment on the pitfalls of participating in this program at an opportune time to find an internship or other work opportunity.
Josey Walden (SFS ’26), a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service (SFS) planning to major in international politics with a minor in Chinese, said the drawbacks of taking part in the summer program outweighed the positives.
“I definitely did consider the summer program. But one, it’s really expensive and two, it’s kind of the time where I need to be getting an internship,” Walden said in an interview with The Hoya.
While the OGE tries to make study abroad accessible by being open to organizing meetings and sharing information on their website, many students have commented on the lack of available information on study abroad options.
Joan Sullivan (SFS ’26) also said she believes there is a lack of information and access to resources when considering study abroad.
“OGE is very focused on people who are applying to study abroad right now. I’m not planning to until next spring,” Sullivan said. “So they’ve requested that we don’t schedule meetings until that application process is over for people going next semester.”
With a need to plan out classes to graduate in time, apply for extracurricular leadership opportunities and figure out future plans, Sullivan said she finds this process a bit overwhelming.
“I feel like I need to get on top of things pretty quickly. I don’t know how quickly I’m going to need to turn around and get an application in,” Sullivan said. “And also, I don’t know what semester would be best to go. So there’s eventually going to be a lot of things I have to do for this, but I just am kind of unaware of what I need to set up. So that’s frustrating a bit.”
Walden said that because of this, she conducted independent research and relied on information from friends and classmates to plan her study abroad experience.
“I feel like the information is not really accessible,” Walden said. “I’ve mostly found out about study abroad stuff through word of mouth. I was also looking through the website, and it was sort of hard to tell what credits would count.”
While students in the College of Arts & Sciences and the SFS noted a lack of communication from the administration about study abroad, the McDonough School of Business (MSB) seems to not foster the same difficulties.
Alejandro Astudillo (MSB ’24), who studied abroad in Madrid, said he received substantial communication about the study abroad application process from campus resources like OGE and Dean Sara Skillman in the MSB.
“The process was pretty straightforward. We were getting a lot of emails about it,” Astudillo said in an interview with The Hoya. “There were moments where I was a bit confused, but a lot of it was more just me worrying about whether I was going to get into the program.”
Additionally, students in the MSB were given a list with approved classes to take while abroad so that they knew their credits would transfer, according to Astudillo.
Upon returning to Georgetown from Madrid, Astudillo said he has been surprised by the lack of communication from the school, especially considering the emails he received previously.
“The school did tell us that they were going to have resources for returning. I know they made a big deal about that,” Astudillo said. “I haven’t gotten any emails about the return process since coming back.”
While he had a smooth transition back to the Hilltop, Astudillo said that other people may not have the same experience.
“Thinking about it now, I’m sure there’s going to be some students that have had trouble coming back, and I don’t know where those resources are for them,” Astudillo said.
OGE does offer reentry resources; these documents were not widely advertised to students upon their return to campus, according to students who studied abroad and then returned to the Hilltop.
Aligning Study Abroad With Georgetown Requirements
Despite some of the problems and confusion around study abroad, some students decided not to study abroad for different reasons, including a strange start to their college experience, course load and preparing for graduate school. For some members of the Class of 2024, who studied online as first-years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, studying abroad seemed difficult after missing a whole year on the Hilltop to form friendships, meet teachers and get to know the city.
Sarah Ackels (MSB ’24) said her decision not to go abroad was rooted in the fact that her time on campus has been limited because of the global pandemic.
“For me, I chose not to study abroad because I missed freshman year on campus at Georgetown due to COVID. I didn’t want to leave Georgetown for another semester, especially because I wasn’t in the District freshman year,” Ackels said in an interview with The Hoya. “Most of my friends chose to stay on campus as well.”
For other students, it was too hard to fit study abroad into their busy school schedules. In some cases, the classes offered abroad weren’t accommodating to some specific junior year schedules that were necessary for an on-time graduation.
For Caroline Miller (CAS ’24), a student majoring in mathematics, study abroad was not conducive to being on the pre-medical track, and more specifically her need to take the MCATs, a series of entrance examinations for students seeking to enroll in medical school.
“I didn’t really have room in my schedule with being pre-med and my math major and computer science minor,” Miller said in an interview with The Hoya. “I really wanted to finish all my pre-med classes junior year, so I could take the MCAT the summer after.”
Will Lefever (SFS ’24), who is working toward proficiency in Chinese, has found that the inability to study abroad in China would impede his language growth. The study abroad programs in China were put on hold following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think COVID definitely inhibited my ability to study abroad, 100 percent. I think the most improvement I’ve ever had in learning languages is having been actually there,” Lefever said in an interview with The Hoya. “I was lucky to be able to study abroad in China for six weeks in high school. But not having access to that at Georgetown was a little bit tough for sure.”
Lefever is preparing for his proficiency test now, and he is planning to take it in two weeks. He said he believes immersing himself in Chinese culture and language would have helped his proficiency significantly.
“I would have loved to do it again. But, you know, sometimes life gets in the way,” Lefever said. “I think I would have gotten a lot of very good practice with the language if I was able to go there.”
Walden said that she has struggled to find a study abroad program because of how niche her interests are, including international politics, Spanish and Chinese.
“Finding a place that would suit my needs has been difficult. I wanted to study abroad in Spain, because I’m taking Spanish, but the options in Spain are limited. There’s no program in Barcelona that I can do because it’s just offered to the business school, and then the program in Madrid for international relations is 45 minutes outside of the city,” Walden said.
Fond Memories of Being Abroad
For some students, however, the limited options lead to new and different experiences — ones that they would have missed out on had they not chosen to go abroad.
John Wilson (MSB ’24), a student majoring in international business with a regional studies focus in the Middle East and a minor in Arabic, said that although his classes in Doha were rigorous, the experience was worthwhile.
“The main locations for students who study Arabic are either Jordan or Morocco, but I had already lived in both of those countries,” Wilson said. “I also wanted to choose a unique study abroad program that I might never have the chance to experience again, and because Georgetown has a satellite campus in Doha, it was the perfect program for me.”
Wilson said there were a few downsides to his experience, the most significant one being separation from friends from Georgetown while abroad.
“The only drawback of studying in Doha was that I missed out on having ease and accessibility to travel across Europe like many of my friends who chose to study there,” Wilson said.
For many students, an ability to easily see friends while abroad was a factor that contributed to their decision making. Walden said while she did consider studying abroad in a Chinese-speaking country, she is prioritizing wanting to be closer to friends.
“Personally, all my friends are going to be in Europe meeting up with each other all the time,” Walden said.
Ultimately, though, students have reacted positively to their experiences abroad. Wilson said his study abroad experience at Georgetown’s campus in Qatar was a worthy experience where he was able to meet many different people and hear about their unique lives.
“I find it funny that I came to Doha intending to further improve my Arabic and learn about the Middle Eastern energy market, but ended up learning about other parts of the world I knew so little about. From the immediate and continued warmness of the GU-Q community to the fascinating people I met, my study abroad experience was truly once in a lifetime,” Wilson said.
Wilson also noted that being in a country surrounded by entirely new people pushed him to make new friends.
“In terms of friendships, I made some of my closest friends while studying abroad, and I am still in touch with many of them,” Wilson said.
Likewise, Oldenburg agreed with Wilson’s sentiments about the benefits and unique experience of study abroad.
“I just think you learn so much beyond the classroom experience in another country, about culture, about yourself, about the world. It’s unlike hanging around campus and making new friends,” Oldenburg said.
Having returned from a semester of traveling around Europe and perfecting his Spanish, Astudillo said he urges prospective students to pursue the international opportunities Georgetown has to offer.
“I think everyone should study abroad if you have the chance,” Astudillo said. “It’s kind of the coolest thing ever.”