To the Editor:
For the fall semester of 2009, 343 students have applied to study abroad. There is significant interest in studying abroad at Richmond in recognition of the fact that an academic international experience is an essential part of today's liberal arts undergraduate education.
According to the latest Open Doors publication from the Institute of International Education, Richmond ranks among the top U.S. baccalaureate institutions for study abroad.
The question of quality versus quantity in study abroad is very important. It is, after all, study abroad and not travel abroad, for which students are earning transfer credit toward their Richmond degree. Equally important is the cross-cultural learning and personal growth that occurs uniquely from a study abroad experience. Richmond's approach to international education, focusing on direct enrollment in universities abroad, is one that is unique among our peer institutions. We believe that students gain the most when they are studying alongside local and other international students. Richmond has selected highly respected exchange partnerships and affiliates in an effort to expand and enhance academic opportunities for its students. In fact, many of our exchange partners abroad rank within the top 500 universities worldwide.
So, what does this mean for our students? First of all, they must be open to accept different approaches to teaching and learning that require them to learn independently and to take greater personal initiative. Any students who have studied abroad and come away believing that they have had some sort of vacation, have failed to make an essential transition in the way they think about how and why they study. At most top institution overseas, it is students who are expected to take responsibility for their own education, not because they have to make a deadline and enhance their GPA, but because they value learning and want to enhance their personal knowledge and understanding.
The first impression of Richmond for many incoming exchange students is that continuous assessment reminds them of high school. In time, they come to appreciate the richness and depth of a liberal arts education and the strong commitment of Richmond's faculty. This is equally true of the vast majority of our students who study overseas and learn to adapt to, and then share in, the value of an alternative and equally rich way to study and learn. Those who fail to adapt and translate freedom from tests into freedom from study have missed the point.
Director of Study Abroad
University of Richmond
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