Written by Eleanor Liu, Contributor
For fifty years now, ever since Furman students left Greenville to study in the British Isles in 1969, study abroad has been largely regarded as one of the most engaging ways to learn at Furman. According to Nancy Georgiev, Director of the Rinker Center for Study Away and International Education, the number of people applying to study away has increased dramatically over the last decade, especially for May-X programs. However, with 18 May-X programs per year, and with two faculty members per program, Georgiev said that Furman is “sort of maxed out” concerning its study away offerings.
With increased demand and limited supply, Georgiev indicated that “we really have to start thinking about what should our criteria be, who should get to go.” In other words, to make the limited number of study away programs open and accessible to all, the Rinker Center is fighting an uphill battle.
To take on this challenge, the Study Away Center first conducted a study to determine “who isn’t studying away and who probably wouldn’t study away in the future unless we did something to decrease barriers.” According to Georgiev, the results of this study indicated that males (30% of applicants) were applying significantly less than females (70% of applicants). Other groups who tend to study away less often include minority students, students who play video games frequently, and students with lower grade point averages.
Given this information, the Rinker Center attempted to implement several policies to improve the study away experience. Two years ago the center decided to host mandatory pre-departure sessions to better communicate essential information with students. The center also worked to develop and promote programs that would be especially appealing and accessible to students who may not have considered studying away previously.
Last year, however, the center attempted to limit students to just one semester of study away. In response to this policy change, which was largely promoted by “financial concerns,” mentioned Georgiev, students, and faculty expressed their concern and insisted that studying away for two terms as part of some students’ pathways. With open ears, the center listened, “tabled the policy” and has not talked about it again this year, said Georgiev. Thus, students are still able to apply for multiple study away semesters.
Moving forward, the study away office is focusing on connecting with students and staff as it continues to work to improve accessibility to study away. For example, the center encourages staff members choosing students for their study away programs to “think of the whole student” and to “make access a priority because the Furman Advantage does guarantee every student access to engaged learning opportunities,” said Georgiev.
Additionally, the Rinker Center features two student representatives on its study away committee and has also created new peer ambassador positions. These positions empower students who have previously participated in study away programs to help students currently applying. With these additions, the Rinker center has begun to receive more student-based feedback that ultimately factors into the decision-making process for implementing new policies.