International Adventure Wanted

Many types of international experience are fruitful, as the report on the Harvard College Curricular Review (HCCR) rightly suggests. After proposing that all students “pursue a significant international experience during their time in the College,” the report broadly defines international experience to include not just study abroad, but any activity that causes “immersion in another culture for an extended period of time,” such as “international internships, independent research, volunteer work, or employment abroad.” The authors of the HCCR strongly believe that a Harvard education should provide “global competence,” the flexibility and open-mindedness to live in this globalizing society.

While at Harvard it is now easy to study abroad—the rightly-praised Office of International Programs (OIP) efficiently encourages and dispatches dozens to study-abroad programs around the globe, successfully increasing the ranks of the “globally competent”—non-academic experiences abroad are much harder to come by. Yet students in the College are quite desirous of leaving campus to explore the world through volunteering and working. Working abroad, however, is a challenge for all those who do not have family or friends in foreign countries and ample personal funds at their disposal.

The first difficulty lies simply in locating an opportunity abroad. Linda Zou ’06 was told: you’re a proactive Harvard student, get out there and find yourself an internship. She learned that her options, she said, “consisted of doing Google searches, paying an organization to find an internship for me or looking through some books in the Office of Career Services (OCS) Reading Room, which I did without result.” Even armed with the most impressive of resumés, students like Zou face many difficulties when contacting employers overseas, from language barriers to the fact that U.S.-style internship culture is largely unknown elsewhere.

Harvard, of course, does boast a wealth of contacts worldwide, but these are not put to use for students. Faculty have acquaintances in global academic circles, and the alumni network itself is probably the most exciting array of professionals connected to Harvard with interesting occupations. These networks could easily be put to use for undergraduates: Harvard is notoriously in touch with everyone to solicit donations. Zou, who studies government, was told at OCS that she could look through a list of alumni but could only contact them for advice and not for job opportunities. She asks, “Doesn’t this defeat the entire purpose of having an alum network?” Perhaps Harvard could ask alumni to offer interesting internship opportunities to current undergraduates.

Once students have found an internship offer, they need to fund it and thus must grapple with Harvard’s complex and frustrating decentralization. There is no single office dealing solely with international experiences: OIP covers study abroad, whereas work abroad falls under the joint jurisdiction of departments, area study centers and OCS. A student wishing to work in Germany, for instance, will be juggled between OCS, OIP, the Center for European Studies and the German Department. Furthermore, funding is only granted extremely late, frequently in April, so those denied grants must cancel their internship and scramble to find an affordable alternative. Since Harvard truly cares about “global competence,” it will hopefully soon desist from putting students through such a process. While learning to navigate this decentralized institution is valuable, Kafkian torture is uncalled for.

The lack of centralization means regularly missed chances. Each year students such as Zou create new and fascinating opportunities for themselves, but without someone to collect this information, opportunities which other students might have shared are forgotten about. As members of the Center for European Studies Undergraduate Board, we do our best to collect information for students who wish to work in Europe. On Thursday, February 3, we are holding an information session with officials from various University bodies about summer experiences in Europe. All undergraduates are invited to join us at 27 Kirkland Street and plan for their summers. Despite our efforts, however, there is not much we can do without a wider College policy to support all student projects. All too often we end up telling students that they must fend for themselves.

Money, however, remains a problem of its own. A two-month stay in a foreign country is expensive, and few internship providers can afford to offer stipends or salaries. While there are a number of Harvard-funded opportunities, these are limited in number, and there is firece competition for them. The prominent Weissman International Internship Program, which finances international internships for sophomores and juniors (who have secured their opportunities independently), funds only 30-odd students each year. For Zou, who located her internship at the House of Commons without help from Harvard but through a friend of a friend, the only option was to support herself for the entire summer.

The writers of the report on the HCCR understood that their touted internationalization comes with a price tag. They suggested that “the [Faculty of Arts and Sciences] expand its allocation of financial support, including summer grants, salaries, stipends and loans, in order to make it possible for all students to pursue at least one international experience.” Without money, there can be no staff support for students when they are at Harvard—current staff at OIP and the area studies centers are already overburdened—and no financial support once they are abroad. It is worth asking whether fundraising for international opportunities will be included in the goals of the upcoming capital campaign. If not, perhaps it should be, as current funds clearly do not meet the needs of the undergraduate body.

We believe that internationalization is a worthy priority, and there is no need to wait for the completion of the Curricular Review for these and other recommendations to be put into place. From harnessing alumni networks, to centralizing information at Harvard, to more generously funding students, a truly global Harvard College is not too far away. We encourage the University administration as well as the many relevant Harvard offices to work for change in coming months—it may be too late for this summer, but with an early start, the summer of 2006 could see a dramatic increase in the number young Harvardians with global competence.

Azra Pravdic ’06 is an economics concentrator in Winthrop House. Alexander Bevilacqua ’07, a Crimson editorial editor, is a history and literature concentrator in Leverett House. Both are members of the Center for European Studies Undergraduate Board.