Overseas experiences are frustrating, underwhelming

Lewis & Clark’s study abroad programs are the reason I chose to attend the school. My time in Japan and Chile was the most meaningful part of my LC experience. 

I designed my time at LC around studying abroad, meeting with the study abroad office since my freshman year and coordinating my classes so that I could pursue a double major and study abroad twice. The advisors in the overseas office were always incredibly kind and helpful, doing their best to assist me with whatever I needed, both on campus and while abroad. I feel, as many others do, that my college experience was partially stolen by the pandemic, so having two semesters overseas and living my college dream was truly fulfilling.

That being said, I also fundamentally believe that LC underdelivers in its study abroad experiences. This may be different in faculty-led experiences, but for the language-intensive experiences in Japan and Chile that I engaged in, LC contracted the experience through a third-party organization. In the case of my experience in Japan, LC contracted through China Educational Tours (CET), and in my study abroad in Chile, they went through the Institute for Study Abroad (IFSA). 

The incompetence displayed by these organizations left an impression on me, particularly when comparing my experiences with those of peers from other universities that created their own programs or found partnerships with local universities more directly. Then, after visiting Middlebury College in Vermont and speaking with the teams behind their abroad programs I began to realize that the office at LC is under-resourced. 

An example of the aforementioned incompetency that stands out in both my experiences was the companies’ lack of knowledge of the visa process. Depending on the country, the complexity of the visa process can vary greatly, and it should be the responsibility of LC — and by extension the company that LC contracts through — to guide students through the visa process. 

I lost around three weeks of my study abroad experience in Japan because CET failed to begin the visa process in time to have our visas ready for the beginning of the program, despite the fact that I requested directly from both LC and CET that my visa documents be sent earlier. 

Prior to my study abroad experience, I had also completed the Middlebury Summer Language program in Japanese. There, I met many other students with the same study abroad plans as me. Their schools began the visa process a month earlier than LC, and all arrived on time.

When traveling to Chile, I encountered a new visa debacle. IFSA advised us that a visa was absolutely necessary and required us to get an FBI background check to carry out the entire visa process. 

Arriving in Chile, I learned that no visa was necessary and that by simply leaving and reentering the country, you could renew your tourist visa. Unfortunately, it was only after spending hundreds of dollars attempting to secure a visa that I came to this realization. The fact that a company specializing in study abroad did not offer this information is unconscionable.

Another point that should be made is that the academic and extracurricular offerings of these companies while abroad are lacking in comparison to offerings provided by other schools. 

In Japan, the non-language courses available to LC students were all taught in English and were universally panned by those that took them as lacking academic rigor. Some schools offer better academic offerings through their study abroad programs by partnering with schools in the host country directly, while others establish inter-school consortiums, allowing them to better coordinate resources. 

An example of the latter can be seen in the Consortium for Advanced Studies Abroad, where Ivy League schools coordinate their resources to offer study abroad experiences that include far deeper cultural immersion and extracurricular engagement. 

Aside from offering better and more varied opportunities for immersion, both solutions provide more clarity regarding how credits transfer between host country institutions and the American university by cutting out the intermediary process of accreditation through a third party.

Finally, it should be noted that LC students pay a significant amount on top of the study abroad companies’ normal rates. This would reasonably lead students to expect some kind of enhanced experience or advantages specific to LC.

If we consider the average LC tuition (~$46,000), which is the same as students are expected to pay to study abroad, compared to  CET’s Japan program price (~$26,000), LC students pay double to study with CET through LC. In the case of IFSA’s price to study in Chile (~$18,000), LC students are charged nearly triple. Despite these inflated prices, LC students receive no additional opportunities or resources through the college, and are left under the questionable guidance of these external companies. 

If LC wants to continue to center their study abroad opportunities as a key part of their identity, then they should actually make their offerings special. The joy and reward that I got out of my study abroad experience was not thanks to nor augmented by LC; it was thanks to the people with whom I participated in the programs and the welcome of the host communities themselves. 

By making a direct effort to gain greater insight into the exact workings of the third parties LC works with, holding them to a higher standard and thereby tailoring the experiences offered, I believe that LC can better care for its students and truly embody the international excellence they espouse. 

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