Study abroad programs

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The following is a distillation of information, mostly culled from student evaluations, on various pre-approved study abroad options for Columbia students. It was originally drafted for The Blue and White, but wound up here instead, with some subsequent modifications.

The following list is divided into official Columbia study abroad programs (those run by the Office of Global Programs, other Columbia-run study abroad programs that somehow made it out of OGP's grasp, and an overview of destinations available through Columbia-approved programs offered by other institutions.

Contents

Columbia programs

Office of Global Programs-administered

The Office of Global Programs is Columbia's official study abroad office, and most (though not all) university-run study abroad programs go through them. To wit:

Amman

  • Summer Arabic Program in Amman: Pretty much what it sounds like, hosted at the Columbia University Middle East Research Center (or Columbia Global Center | Middle East; better use both names since the university can't figure it out).

Beijing

  • Columbia University in Beijing: Spend a semester or yearlong program at China's prestigious Tsinghua University. Propagand...er, promotional materials show students enjoying early-morning tai chi sessions and horseback riding in the "Fragrant Hills". Students tell of an extraordinary opportunity for cultural immersion, but also their uncertainty over the grading system, their dorm's isolation from the city, and its semester-long "dwindling supply of hot water". Those resolved to immerse themselves as fully as possible might be inclined to disregard the latter issue and spend their days at the communal bath-house.
  • Summer Language Program in Beijing: Summer Mandarin classes are taught by mostly Columbia academics and hosted at Minzu University.

Berlin

  • The Berlin Consortium for German Studies is one of Columbia's more established programs, yet also among its most controversial. Students only take one or two consortium classes; the rest are held at the Free University of Berlin. Meanwhile, residential life is in constant flux, with students transitioning from a hostel to a four week homestay to an apartment that must be hunted without assistance. Responses to the Berlin program range from enthusiastic recounts of the city's cultural wealth to "among the most miserable times in my life, I will not remember study abroad fondly or even without hostility...Five months is a terrible amount of time - too short to immerse, and too long - my god, too long. Too cold, too grey."

Kyoto

  • Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies: Columbia has recently taken command of Stanford's old study abroad center in Japan's cultural heart, and with it has come both the stringent requirements (a two-semester minimum stay) and diverse (albeit occasionally questionable) courseload one expects from Alma Mater: the center now offers a class entitled "Demonic Women". Students complained that the center's academics, particularly its language classes, were not as challenging as expected, but otherwise found the program clean, safe, and orderly. One potential perk: no "international student village" nor the isolation of a local apartment here; students are now put up together in a local hotel.
  • Kyoto Summer Program in Advanced and Classical Japanese: also offered at the Kyoto Consortium for those interested.

Paris

  • The Columbia-Penn program at Reid Hall is probably one of the univeristy's (or universities'?) better-organized study abroad efforts. Students study in the building that once housed the first Protestant school in France, a society entitled "the American Girls Club" (sorry, no relation to the doll company), and a First World War hospital, not to mention lectures by Barthes, de Beauvoir and Derrida. Past participants mostly concurred that he program's academics were excellent, but lamented the difficulties involved in cross-registration with local universities (a requirement that tended to get impaired in the course of frequent strikes), as well as the seeming isolation of Americans from French students. Still, for only $300 a month, Reid Hall will transplant you to the set of "La Boheme", with an attic "maid's room" all your own.
  • There's also a Contemporary French Theater and Performance program at Reid, for those so inclined.
  • Summer French Studies Program in Paris: What it sounds like.

Shanghai

  • Summer Business and Internship Program in Shanghai: Econ majors rejoice; summer internship opportunities and thrilling lectures on the likes of "Monetary Matters and Reformation in the Chinese Banking System Since 1979" complement private Chinese language tutorials.

Venice

  • Italian Cultural Studies: Follow Thomas Mann's footsteps to Italy's showpiece of romantic decline - and romantic cliches - with Columbia's summer program for Art History and Italian majors. The perks include one's very own Big Brother, er, "Cultural Partner," from Ca' Foscari University.

Other Columbia Programs

The Office of Global Programs may control most official Columbia study abroad options, but not all! Behold, some of the weirder (but more impressive) options available:

Oxford/Cambridge

Linguistically underadventurous, though academically motivated Columbians wishing to add Great Britain's two greatest universities to their undergraduate resumes ought to know that the experience will be a hard-won privilege, rather than a right. While other universities enjoy easy access to a semester at either via Butler University's study abroad program, Columbia students are screened academically and are required to spend a full year amid Oxbridge's spires. Students surveyed after the program wished their tutors were a bit more easy to hunt down, the food a bit more...edible, or the exchange rate at least slightly more favorable ("Oh holy God, [bring] everything you have", said one), but their experiences were, overall, mostly positive. Applicants shouldn't expect, however, too much of a culture shock, unless they are like those who claimed, in their surveys, that "can't be bothered" was a "learned British-ism" or that "discussing different tastes in indie music" was a quintessentially British experience.

Columbia Excavations at Amheida, Egypt

Not formally a study abroad program, and not for the weak, working with Columbia archaeologists' dig in the oases of Upper Egypt requires communication in a difficult local dialect of Arabic, working and studying six days a week (only Friday is off- for mosque services) and the even more daunting task of rising daily at 5am. Living conditions may not be for the pampered, as "Utilities in rural Egypt are not entirely reliable...and students should be prepared for periodic power outages (bring a flashlight) and even water cuts". Extracurriculars are not the program's strong suit, either. "Opportunities for recreation...are by New York standards rather limited," the program's website recounts, dryly. The program at Amheida constitutes its own 16-credit semester with three required courses; the last allows students to move out of the wild and base themselves at Cairo, from which they travel the Nile studying Greco-Roman monuments. Bonus: you're done by March!

Medieval France

One might easily believe this program involved retreating from one's own time and space, if only it weren't focused specifically on digitally-rendered analyses of Romanesque architecture. While in the field, students are housed in the sumptuous Ch√Ęteau de Bostz, estate of one Prince de Lobkowicz, who will feeds them twice daily. Reality - and modernity - intrude upon the class when it relocates to Paris, where students fend for themselves in a nondescript dormitory.

Non-Columbia programs

Europe

University of London Schools

Large, bustling, diverse - London is New York's virtual twin across the pond, and scores of Columbians have flocked to its various schools and colleges to experience metropolitan life with a slightly different accent. Columbia offers direct enrollment in University College London, the London School of Economics, the School of Oriental and African Studies, King's College, and a variety of other branches of the vast and protean university of London. According to student surveys, nearly all the London schools share the advantage of truly international dorm-mates ("a cross-section of the world" is how one described the living experience) - and the disadvantage of slightly disappointing academic quality. Some also expressed frustration with the bureaucracies of the London schools, wishing Columbia advised UK-bound students to leave administrative details up to a US-based study abroad program.

Prague

Various programs associated with Charles University in Prague are among the highest consistently rated study abroad experiences by Columbia students. Those bound for the Czech Republic can count either on an absurdly cheap apartment in a neighborhood that will force them to learn the local tongue, or program housing in a bed and breakfast that provides meals- and makes beds. What's more, many report that Prague remains unencumbered with the crushing tourist loads that plague European capitals further west.

Danish International School, Copenhagen

Denmark is hardly one of the most glamorous study abroad destinations, and Columbia doesn't even offer classes in Danish. No matter: the Danish International School of Copenhagen is a rare exception in the fairly uniform world of study abroad programs; student's needn't worry about the local language at all. Classes, though often derided for being "disorganized lectures," are taught entirely in English, and are mostly concerned with European Union law and politics. The living situation may cause some students pause- housing may be as much as 30 minutes by commuter rail from the city center, and chances to meet fellow study-abroders outside class are rare - but DIS students are privy to other opportunities, including weeklong study trips to Russia.

Butler University: St. Andrew's

The omnipresent Butler University study abroad program offers several urban university options in England and Scotland, sure. Yet the student who truly wishes to escape Columbia and its urban confines should consider St. Andrew's, isolated at the end of several ever less-important and slow local train lines extending from Edinburgh, itself hardly an international transit hub. While perhaps not the best option for the study abroad perspective seeking to comb Europe during Spring Break, St. Andrew's seclusion, its low workload:prestige ratio- and free golf on its historic course for registered students- makes it an ideal choice for those seeking a complete escape from every aspect of life in Manhattan.

Latin America

Argentina/Chile/Brazil

Major study abroad outlets such as CIEE, COPA, and Butler University offer a variety of popular programs throughout southern South America. The most uniformly preferred was CIEE's partnership with the University of Buenos Aires, which gave students the option of a residence hall as well as a homestay rather than forcing the latter. Students, however, were generally perturbed by the difficulty of counting course credit once back at Columbia, and by the vast numbers of Americans studying in Spanish-speaking countries in general. Those studying in Brazil cited the supportive nature of CIEE's programs there, and emphasized mostly positive homestay experiences- although they added it was generally difficult to meet Brazilian students, who themselves live at home during their university years.

Butler University: Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan, Mexico

Students seeking Spanish immersion relatively close to home ought to seek this program in the relatively small, friendly city of Merida. Academics, according to students who participated, are on par with what Americans were used to, and as the program seemed well established within the university, hitches were relatively few. Homestays in particular seem to have been carefully coordinated. For spring break traditionalists, the university is only a few hours from Cancun, and for others, Merida offers a slowgoing, colonial alternative to the side of the Yucatan more fit for MTV. Case in point: one surveyed student noted that "although the fresas (rich, snobby girls) were gorgeous, the one I really went for turned out to be horribly Catholic...So good luck, but one of my friends from San Diego who was cooler than me got no gorgeous ass either."

Africa

Senegal

While Dakar's Cheikh Anta Diop University is acknowledged by many who have studied there to hardly be among their most challenging academic experiences, students who studied in Senegal highly valued their homestay experiences, which they found extraordinarily enlightening. The downsides of Senegal? Lack of access to computers, but more often Ugly Americans who refused to take the plunge into Senegalese culture or customs.

Cape Town

Among the various programs Columbia authorizes in South Africa, most students opted for Cape Town, and preferred InterStudy's program there, which provided Americans with shared homes and took care of minor necessities like phone bills and bank accounts. Still, students recounted, the program and University of Cape Town bureaucracies could occasionally prove encumberments, while some remained concerned about latent racism and mounting crime scarring the city.

Elsewhere

India- Institute of Buddhist Dialectics

The majority of the Columbia students who have chosen to study abroad in India have done so to deepen their knowledge of Buddhism, particularly at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala, where they have attended lessons by the Dalai Lama himself. Accordingly, academics at the Institute are difficult, particularly the Tibetan language barrier, and the living standards can be both a shock and a challenge; medical attention is not plentiful in Dharamsala should anything happen, and students are shuffled from dorm to co-residence with a Tibetan student to student hostel. Students appear to have enjoyed going with the flow, however, which means, one can only assume, their immersion in Tibetan Buddhism was at least partly successful.

Cornell Nepal Study Program

Research is the emphasis of Cornell's program in the medieval Nepali town of Kirtipur, outside Kathmandu. Students take research writing courses (in English) and spend up to five weeks in the field, either independently or as part of a faculty team. While the professors and staff at this program are "loving and really supportive," the living situation can apparently be rather frustrating; "one [Nepali] girl was stealing things, but the program director did nothing about it (even though she was aware)" a surveyed student wrote.

Butler University: Australia and New Zealand

Columbia students who wish to travel as far as possible and still speak English go through Butler University's programs in Australia and New Zealand, which lead primarily to the Universities of Sydney, Melbourne, New South Wales, or Aukland. Most who went emphasized the acute differences between New York and the antipodes: a warm climate and slow-paced academic life allowed many students to embark on frequent outdoor excursions. The familiarity of the language and the general "hands-off" nature of the program allow students to live fairly independently, although the comparatively luxurious university housing (especially in Sydney) and the predominance of Americans tended to isolate students from Australian society.

American University in Cairo

Many who have headed to Cairo found the AUC lacking academically beyond the Arabic language program, but believed the experience was entirely justified for the linguistic skills acquired alone. Students reported that living in Egypt could be frustrating; the bureaucracy - within the university and without - can be cumbersome. Still, they reported that Egypt was extraordinarily welcoming for Americans and the opportunity to learn Arabic in the city's shops and coffeehouses unparalleled.

Sources

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