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When Catherine H. Winnie steps in as the new permanent director of the Office of International Programs (OIP) next February, she will find the office in a time of rapid expansion of programs and rising numbers of students traveling abroad.
Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 announced earlier this month that Winnie, a former assistant director of the Office of Career Services (OCS), will fill the position of OIP’s first director Jane Edwards, who left for a deanship at Yale this summer.
Winnie’s appointment will be a step towards “implementing our Faculty’s goal that every Harvard undergraduate have a significant international experience before graduating from the College,” Gross said.
But even before Winnie’s arrival, Harvard is already seeing a rapid growth in the number of international offerings from the College.
In 2003, Harvard launched its first term-time study abroad program in Chile. By next fall, the College plans to run six semester-abroad programs in locations from Bolivia to Botswana, coordinate 22 international summer programs, and offer various internships and volunteer opportunities.
“I think Harvard has turned itself into an outward-looking, international place,” Winnie says.
AN ‘IMPORTANT NEED’
In the OIP’s office on the ground floor of University Hall, colorful brochures, binders, and posters fill the bookshelves and line the walls.
Four years ago, Harvard’s Study Abroad Office was renamed the OIP when it was transferred from the Office of Career Services (OCS) to the jurisdiction of University Hall—a change made under former Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby.
Prior to the establishment of the OIP in 2002, Harvard undergraduates hoping to study abroad for a semester were forced to rely on other schools’ programs for foreign travel.
The drive to increase Harvard’s own offerings originated largely from the upper ranks of the University administration.
Study abroad was one of former University President Lawrence H. Summers’ most publicized initiatives, before he stepped down this June.
During his tenure, the number of Harvard undergraduates participating in international experiences more than doubled. In the 2000-2001 academic year, 172 students studied abroad for credit, compared to 351 in 2004-2005, according to OIP statistics.
According to last year’s senior survey data, 80 percent of seniors said they had a significant international experience during their time at the College, Gross said.
Leslie M. Hill, acting director of the OIP, says Summers and Kirby were instrumental to this increase in international experiences opportunities for students.
Last year, a new administrative position—Vice Provost for International Affairs—was created to govern the University’s international activities and advise the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Madero Professor of Mexican and Latin American Politics and Economics Jorge I. Dominguez currently occupies the position.
A LIFE LESSON
Andrea M. Spillmann ’08, who participated in the College’s Argentina program during its pilot semester, says she was pleased with a program that allowed her to immerse herself in a new culture.
Learning to live and navigate in a foreign country—“finding ways to make it ‘your own,’ so to speak”—is a useful “life lesson,” Spillman wrote in an e-mail.
Hill emphasizes that Harvard’s programs try to bring together resources from several departments to create opportunities targeting undergraduates.
In Harvard’s new study abroad program in Botswana, which focuses on HIV in Africa, students will conduct lab research while taking courses in African politics and the Setswana language at the University of Botswana.
Next fall, Harvard will also offer a grant for students to participate in an exchange program with universities in Canada and Mexico.
According to Hill, students can now access a greater number of fellowships and scholarships offered by the OIP, some of which have doubled or even tripled in amount awarded.
A SUMMER SOJOURN
Though optimistic about the Faculty’s goal of having every undergraduate engage in an international experience, Winnie says that currently “many students find it impossible to work it into their curriculum, or find the time and the funding.”
Steven A. Strott ’07, a history and literature concentrator, says that there were several courses he would have missed out on had he decided to study abroad.
“I realized that studying abroad, while appealing, necessitated many sacrifices I wasn’t willing to make,” he says.
According to Dean of Harvard Summer School Robert A. Lue, students do not have to worry that time abroad will disrupt their academic plans if they participate in Harvard’s new summer school programs.
The programs complement the students’ curricula while allowing them to immerse themselves in local culture, says Lue, who is also a senior lecturer on molecular and cellular biology.
“We’re not interested in just transplanting Harvard,” he adds. “We’re interested in creating something that’s both collaborative and integrated at the site.”
In the past year alone, the number of Harvard summer study abroad programs has grown from 16 to 22. Among the new offerings is the opportunity to study at the prestigious Paris film school La Femis, where students study under important directors and produce their own work.
According to Lue, faculty members can also pitch ideas for programs and work with the summer school to implement them.
ABOVE AND BEYOND
Students who are eager for an international experience can also gain career experience through various internships offered by groups at Harvard.
The David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS), which oversees the term-time study abroad programs in Latin America, began offering a series of summer internships in six different Latin American countries last summer.
Student interns have the opportunity to work with local organizations in categories ranging from finance to human rights.
“As a formalized internship with in-country structure and support, it’s a model that’s unique at Harvard,” says Katie Ferrari, Student Services Coordinator of DRCLAS.
The Center also offers support to students planning their own travel, advising students about program placement and providing them with contacts through an online database.
The Harvard South Asia Initiative is also offering new internship opportunities, according to staff assistant Ian Jackson. Last summer, the Initiative funded five students’ work abroad and the group is planning to sponsor even more this year, he says.
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