More study abroad options? Yes! But existing programs have value, too.

By Kathie Bergquist

Dear Editors,I read with interest your recent editorial, “Columbia’s Study Abroad Programs Lack Diversity”. As a faculty leader of study abroad programs for more than 10 years, I’ve been deeply invested in global education at Columbia and I couldn’t agree more that our students deserve as many, as diverse, and as far-ranging study abroad opportunities as possible. Study Borges in Argentina or Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Colombia? That sounds like a dream to me.But your editorial rightly points out that faculty who organize these programs largely do so voluntarily. This includes a year-long schedule of program planning and logistics, budgeting, academics, promotion, and administration — and most of this work occurs before it’s known whether the program will have sufficient interest to run. In the past, I’ve seen exciting faculty-led study abroad opportunities available for South American and Asian countries. The challenge is that these opportunities require a minimum enrollment threshold to be viable, so I’ve also seen excellent programs cancelled due to insufficient student enrollment, despite the long investment in time and work put into organizing them.In the tailwinds of a pandemic, the faculty-led study abroad programs that are travel-ready are, reasonably, established programs with sustained student interest. That doesn’t mean that these are the only programs that will run, and I am certain that appealing and far-ranging new opportunities will emerge with sufficient time to develop and administer them. This will be to great advantage for our students. But I want to emphasize that our existing tried-and-true programs have survived because of the exceptional creative, academic, and life experiences that they offer.Study abroad offers many creative and practical benefits to Columbia students. Creatively, students regularly cite renewed inspiration, creative productivity, and self-confidence. Global experience provides a broader context for the artist’s (and the entrepreneur’s) place in the world. More practically, a study abroad experience is associated with many highly desirable and transferable competencies, including creative problem solving, cultural awareness, ease in new and challenging situations, and critical thinking. In an increasingly globalized creative marketplace, students with global experience have a significant advantage when entering the workforce; this has been demonstrated in numerous studies.So, yes please: more diverse and far-reaching faculty-led study abroad opportunities for Columbia students. Ideally, I’d love every student at Columbia to be able to study abroad in a program that challenges and enriches them, wherever that may be. But in the meantime, don’t discredit the outstanding programs Columbia currently offers. The Creative Writing Summer in Prague is among the longest-running faculty-led programs at Columbia. Since 2000, countless students from many Columbia majors have benefited from their study abroad experience in Prague. I’m gratified that students continue to find value in the program and their immersion in Prague’s fascinating history and culture and the weird and dreamy writing of Franz Kafka, who Gabriel Garcia Marquez himself cited as a significant influence for his work.The pandemic put global travel, and study abroad, on hold for two years. As the world reopens, students are once again looking at the horizon to broaden their opportunities. This is exciting! Hopefully it is just the beginning of a building momentum to go out and experience the world that will, by extension, support and sustain fascinating new and well-established existing global opportunities.Sincerely,Kathie BergquistAdjunct faculty, English & Creative Writing, and faculty leader of the Creative Writing Summer in Prague and Creative Writing J-Term in Paris programs