Higher And Broader Education

December 10, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — When most of us pass someone on the sidewalk who’s obviously from another country, we give them a darting appraisal, being careful — as is our custom — not to stare.

But when we’re the foreigners in out-of-the-way parts of, say, China, we find ourselves the objects of frank, fascinated and concentrated stares.

It’s not rudeness, it’s just one of the first cultural differences that a Calvin College students notice when studying in the Far East.

Others also learn quickly, particularly in Europe, of widespread prejudice against the United States, though not against American citizens personally..

These are the sorts of differences to which a great many Calvin College students become accustomed, because Calvin is one of the top schools in the country for students who study abroad.

Almost half of Calvin's class of 2002 studied outside the United States at some point during their undergraduate career.

For about two-thirds of those students, that study abroad came during the college’s three-week January term called Interim.

Says Calvin's Ellen Monsma, director of off-campus programs: “Off-campus programs broaden students’ horizons significantly. 

“Not only do they study academic courses, they also learn how to live in new and sometimes very different cultures. That demands a lot of flexibility and self-reliance.” In some people’s view, the experience of living and studying abroad also is the rough equivalent of earning a second degree.

Upon returning to their Grand Rapids campus, Monsma said, students generally have a clearer idea of who they are.

“And they have a new perspective both on the world and on their Christian calling,” she added.

In 2000-2001 the school had 486 students studying in other countries.  That placed Calvin seventh in the category of master’s institutions, just ahead of Philadelphia’s Villanova University. 

Grand Valley State University was 15th in the category with 355 students.

Monsma said the figures come from the Institute for International Education and its annual “Open Doors” statistical report.

With Calvin’s enrollment of about 4,300 students in 2000-2001, the 486 students who were overseas in that year represented 11 percent of the student body.  In fact, when ranked by percentage, Calvin rises to third in its category (since many of the schools in Calvin's category are significantly bigger than Calvin).

Monsma said Calvin regards study abroad as an important component of its students’ education. 

She said the school’s off-campus programs allow Calvin students to travel to 10 destinations for semester-long study programs, including two in Honduras as well as programs in Britain, China, France, Ghana, Hungary and Spain.

Calvin also has semester-long U.S. programs in New Mexico and Washington, D.C.  For students who need a program focus not available in Calvin's own programs, Monsma said the off-campus programs office helps them find one that suits their needs.

More and more Calvin students are taking advantage of the chance to study abroad in the Calvin-sponsored programs. About one-third of the students who study abroad do so for an entire semester.

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