Students struggle to study abroad with SMU

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By Emily Sharp

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SMU students study abroad in Granada, Spain (Photo by SMU Abroad).

Semester abroad programs are not quite as popular at SMU as at other college campuses.

SMU offers 150 study abroad programs in 50 different countries around the world, yet only about 23 percent of undergraduate students study abroad for a semester and 47 percent study abroad in the summer.

These numbers are much lower than other colleges across the country that often have 100 percent of their students study abroad at some point in their college career.

So, what gives? Is SMU too much fun for students to want to leave? Is the study abroad process too difficult? Do certain majors not allow students to go abroad? The answer may be a combination of all of the above.

“SMU needs to be a little more clear on the extensive process that goes with applying abroad,” said Chloe Zarco, a junior communications major.

She is planning to study in Paris in the spring semester.

At SMU, in order to study abroad students must meet the standard prerequisites of a minimum GPA of 2.5 or higher, completion of one full semester at SMU, and a good academic and disciplinary standing.

Then, come the forms. This is the part of the application process where some students begin to lose morale.

Students must submit a list of required forms. These include the proposed plan of study form being the longest and most difficult to complete because it requires multiple signatures and advisor approvals.

“They need to work on streamlining their process for getting more classes approved,” senior finance major Jaime O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell studied abroad in Paris last year.

The difficulty is that SMU study abroad advisors are not academic advisors. When students need to get courses approved in a timely manner, the form is being circulated from academic advisor to college advisor to study abroad advisor, making the line of communication extremely confusing, which only prolongs the process.

“I’m sure students would want an easier process but there are protocols we have to follow,” SMU study abroad advisor Lea Sarodjo said. “The biggest paper is the proposed plan of study because we want to encourage them to come in and talk about what they’re doing academically.”

The idea behind the lengthy process is to make students aware of the curriculum. Last year the abroad office started taking steps to speed up the process by putting the entire application online. Before this, students would have to walk into the study abroad office to submit every form individually.

Students also complain that certain majors make it extremely difficult to study abroad and still graduate in four years.

“Cox doesn’t really like when their students take business classes abroad, so I wasn’t able to take any business classes that counted for my major or for the core curriculum,” O’Donnell said.

But O’Donnell’s situation lended well to her studying abroad. She transferred college credits from high school to SMU and the lessened University Curriculum requirements gave her the opportunity to study in Paris, and still graduate in four years.

However, for most business students in particular, this is not always the case.

“Although I wanted to go abroad, I felt like doing so would be detrimental to my academics because there are so few classes offered abroad that fill the requirements I needed,” junior finance major Maddie Rice said.

If more accounting and finance courses were offered abroad, then Rice said that she definitely would have applied for a program abroad. Rice is just one of the many students who feel that their major prohibits them from experiencing the opportunity to study abroad.

The problem is not a lack of desire to study abroad by the students, but rather a lack of options.

“Some majors make it more difficult than others to go abroad,” Sarodjo said.

Sarodjo did not mention the specific SMU majors that make it more difficult to study abroad, but she did recognize that it is certainly an issue that the SMU study abroad office is aware of – but doesn’t have the authority to change.

This issue forces some students to choose between their desired major and studying abroad for a semester.

However, the issue with certain majors and the fear of missing out have both contributed to the success and popularity of the SMU summer study abroad programs.

“The summer program is easier to apply to and students don’t experience FOMO [fear of missing out] since it is in the summer, so their friends aren’t having fun without them at school,” Sarodjo said.

More and more SMU students are gravitating towards the summer programs rather than the ones offered for an entire semester for a various reasons.

The benefits of the summer programs include a less extensive application process, and no need to petition for credit because all of the courses are pre-approved. Also, students have advanced knowledge of the available pillar courses, tend to feel safer with a faculty member going abroad with them, and are comforted by being in a group of all SMU students.

Although, the summer programs give the students the best of both worlds by allowing them to have a taste of studying abroad and still graduate on time with their desired major; some argue that five weeks in the peak of tourist season do not give students the most beneficial and authentic experience in their host country. However, unless changes are made to the application process and course curriculum, the semester study abroad programs will continue to fall behind the summer programs.

“I only have four years of college,” junior Henry Shepherd said. “I want to experience all of them at SMU.”

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