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Universities are typically not in the business of asking top-notch students to go away. But GW’s Office for Study Abroad is doing just that with great success. This past academic year, more than 870 undergraduates left Foggy Bottom to study in some 50 countries—a number representing more than 40 percent of the junior class. That percentage earned GW a top-10 rank in the study abroad arena among research institutions that are members of the Forum on Education Abroad, one of the field’s leading professional associations.

With GW study centers in Madrid, Paris, and England, and programs slated to open soon in Copenhagen and Latin America, the University’s links with the world are expanding at rapid-fire pace. “An important part of the University’s strategic plan is to ensure that we educate our students to be global citizens,” says Donna Scarboro, assistant vice president for special and international programs. “As a result, we’ve expanded GW’s presence in Europe and are now focusing on establishing an array of high-quality study abroad options in Latin America and elsewhere around the world.”

The University’s newest venture, the England Study Center, began last fall and features direct enrollment with three internationally renowned English partner institutions—King’s College, London; Royal Holloway, University of London; and the University of Sussex in Brighton. Because language is not an issue, GW students are immersed in life at their host colleges, living on campus and studying alongside British students in a variety of rigorous courses taught by outstanding faculty. GW students receive transfer credits upon successful completion of their studies in England.

“London has always been one of our leading study abroad destinations, and it’s exciting to be able to partner with such high caliber institutions there,” says Lynn Leonard, director of GW’s Office for Study Abroad. “We are very pleased with the program’s launch and expect it to grow substantially in the coming years.”

Across the English Channel in the vibrant city of lights, GW’s Paris Study Center is flourishing. Based at the prestigious Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, known internationally as Sciences Po, GW students choose from an array of study options to fit their interests and academic needs.

The fall semester business studies program opened four years ago to great fanfare. Participants study marketing, human resource development, financial management, and other business topics in English, complemented by a series of corporate site visits to leading multinational companies. Designed by GW’s School of Business, in cooperation with the office of special and international programs, the study center brings three GW faculty members to Paris each fall to teach the core business courses and accompany students on the site visits.

In the spring, international affairs majors and others participate in the European Studies program, featuring a joint curriculum of GW courses taught in English and Sciences Po courses taught in French. Designed by GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs, the program was inaugurated this year. A third option allows students proficient in the French language to enroll directly at Sciences Po or at one of 15 French universities as exchange students.

GW students live in apartments in the heart of Paris and benefit from the expertise of resident director Florence Claassen, who organizes a comprehensive one-week orientation program and plans cultural activities and organized excursions. Taking students under her protective wing, Claassen goes far beyond the call of duty. “She’s even been known to hunt down turkey and cranberry sauce for our students at Thanksgiving time, which is not an easy feat in Paris,” Scarboro notes.

GW’s new European offerings join the Madrid Study Center, where some 500 students have opened their minds and nourished their souls since the program’s creation in 1992. Based at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, the popular program caters to undergraduates eager to deepen their knowledge and understanding of Spain’s language, culture, and ever-increasing role in the international arena. Featuring regular GW courses and housing with Spanish host families, the program is administered by on-site resident director Carmela Hernandez, referred to by past participants as the program’s guardian angel.

Each year, GW/Oxford's six-member, internationally recognized faculty offers courses on the philosophy, history doctrine, and practice of international human rights law.

GW students spend their first month in Madrid attending an intensive Spanish language and culture course. Next, participants choose from a wide selection of courses, offered in English or Spanish. Formal coursework is complemented by organized excursions, field studies, seminars, and internships designed to enhance students’ Madrid experience.

“As our first and most established study center, Madrid serves as an excellent model for the new and emerging programs,” Leonard says. “We’re now working to expand the number of courses available for GW credit in Madrid and to enhance the cultural components of the program. For example, we recently added a Barcelona field experience. Our students come away with a clear understanding of contemporary issues in Spain and the country’s role in the European Union and the world, as well as an absolute love of the place and its people.”

As the number of GW students opting to spend a semester or a year abroad continues to skyrocket, so do opportunities for exciting, short-term study abroad options around the globe. Each summer, GW offers a plethora of faculty-led courses overseas, ranging this year from a rural tourism consulting practicum in Tangiers, Morocco, led by Professor of Tourism Studies Donald Hawkins, to an in-depth look at Central European politics in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, led by Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Sharon Wolchik. Summer offerings generally run for a week to a month and often include a Washington component, as well as intensive study overseas.

Two special highlights of summer 2004 included a behind-the-scenes look at the Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, with Olympic scholar Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of tourism and sport management (see GW Magazine, spring 2004) and the 10th anniversary of the renowned GW/Oxford Program in International Human Rights Law in England.

This year, 85 students from 20 countries participated in the GW/Oxford program—55 of them from GW Law School. GW Law Professors Gregory E. Maggs, Dinah Shelton, and Ralph Steinhardt (creator and co-director of the program) spent the month of July teaching on the picturesque campus of New College, Oxford, founded in 1379. Each year, GW/Oxford’s six-member, internationally recognized faculty offers courses on the philosophy, history, doctrine, and practice of international human rights law. Rounding out the curriculum is a lecture series featuring some of the leading authorities in the field of international human rights law, a human rights film series, a career panel, and a series of meetings with faculty members on their work.

“Students attend to learn how to contribute to the improvement of human rights conditions in their homelands and around the world,” Scarboro says. “The program gives participants a chance to sink their teeth into the topic and goes far beyond the survey level. Students and the faculty spend a great deal of time together both inside and outside of the classroom, including meals and many evenings, so they really get to know each other. It’s a small, focused community experience, which the students seem to value and appreciate.”

In addition to GW’s study centers, special exchange agreements with universities around the globe, such as Al Akhawayn University in Morocco, Kyoto University in Japan, and Bogazici University in Turkey are a benefit to GW students. GW also is affiliated with a number of international educational consortiums, enabling students to attend designated universities worldwide while retaining their GW financial aid and other benefits.

The University’s study abroad team is now gearing up to open a collection of programs in Latin America. Scarboro led a group of five faculty members on a familiarization trip to Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, and Argentina in May to pinpoint potential partners for new exchange opportunities. “We met with 15 institutions of higher education, as well as with some of our own students, and are now in the process of forging partnerships with outstanding universities in at least four countries,” Scarboro says. “Latin America is becoming increasingly relevant to our students because of the importance of hemispheric issues and economic forces, as well as the prevalence of the Spanish language. Latin America is also an important contributor to 20th-century literature, film, and the arts. There are many great educational opportunities in these countries, and our students are very enthusiastic about studying there.”

Scarboro expects that GW’s Latin American offerings will replicate the family homestays that are such an integral part of the Madrid program. “By living with Spanish-speaking families, our students immerse themselves in the language and really move their Spanish along,” she says. “Through sustained interaction with natives of their host countries—who have a different history, priorities, problems, demands, and opportunities—they also learn a great deal about how others view the world culturally, economically, and politically. These rich lessons help to dispel clichés and false assumptions.”

As the University’s study abroad options proliferate, Scarboro emphasizes that academic quality and student safety remain top priorities. “As we’ve grown, we’ve taken many steps to ensure that our programs are among the best in the industry,” she says. “We work with the highest quality partners and our faculty is involved in helping us shape the programs with the needs of GW students in mind.”

Scarboro underscores the fact that student safety is paramount. “The demands of providing safety information to parents, staff, and students have increased dramatically in recent years, and we’ve strengthened our efforts to keep up with the need for increased vigilance,” she says. “When the attacks took place in Madrid this past March, the study abroad staff knew our students’ whereabouts before our alarm clocks went off that morning. It’s our goal to have that same rapid response standard across the world.”

Leonard says that the University’s study abroad programs are likely to hit the 1,000-students-per-year mark in the near future. “Early numbers for this coming academic year are once again on the increase,” she says. “Our students have so many exciting models to choose from and are eager to take advantage of growing opportunities to receive a world-class complement to their GW education through international experiences. It’s a real honor and pleasure to oversee their education beyond our shores.”

Connecting the World to the Classroom

Students in the Dean's Scholars in Globalization program live at GW's Mount Vernon Campus, located on Foxhall Road in Washington.

Photo by Claire Duggan

The world is indeed a classroom for members of Columbian College of Arts and Sciences’ new Dean’s Scholars in Globalization, a unique knowledge-based, international living-learning community for undergraduates that builds on GW’s strengths in global experiences.

Open to science and liberal arts majors, the two-year program features an integrated package of living-learning experiences including linked coursework, advising, community building, and international study. Students live together their freshman year, take two courses together each semester for three semesters, including a special Dean’s Seminar, and travel abroad on two research expeditions. Prior to going overseas, GW students establish technologically facilitated virtual communities with international students in the region via Web cam.

“The successful, educated person in the 21st century requires competency to operate in a global context,” Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Dean William Frawley says. “Unlike traditional international curricula, where a region of the world is the object of study, Dean’s Scholars use the world instrumentally as a means to study an academic theme with important global consequences.”

The program’s inaugural group of Dean’s Scholars, comprising 15 select freshmen, is focusing on the problems of megacities around the world. “It’s a major international issue,” Frawley says. “In some cases, half of a country’s population lives in one city. Imagine an American city with 150 million residents.” To study the problem up close, the freshmen will be traveling to South America next summer to conduct research in Santiago, Chile. The following summer, they will embark on a study expedition to the Far East, spending several weeks in Singapore. Following this comparative international experience, students will generate a portfolio, including a capstone project and a research expedition report.

“It’s our goal to give students a holistic understanding of the world and the knowledge that we live in a world that is divided, but has a lot of commonality,” says Associate Professor of Geography and International Affairs Elizabeth Chacko, faculty director of GW’s 2004-06 Program in Megacities.

Frawley, the driving force behind the program, hopes to continue and expand Dean’s Scholars in Globalization in the coming years. “Our program is unique in that students from many majors work together to solve problems using various approaches,” he says. “By educating students in the new world context, we hope to increase multicultural competency, as well as the ability to negotiate globally, understand a variety of viewpoints, evaluate new situations, and marshal resources to solve complex problems. In short, we’re striving to promote students who understand the multilateral nature of knowledge and problem solving.”

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