As students from Korea, China, Italy, and Denmark finish their spring semester program at Barnard, administrators are looking to expand the school's reach to new continents next spring.
Barnard’s Visiting International Students Program, which started in the spring of 2009, brings students from partnering universities such as the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and Collegio Nuovo of Pavia in Italy to Barnard for one semester.
Though five students participated last year, this year saw no less than 41 students from four different countries and seven universities—an increase administrators say is part of a larger effort to diversify and internationalize Barnard’s student body. And according to Dean for International Programs Hilary Link, that number is set to increase further next spring.
“From five to 41 was a lot,” Link said. “We’re aiming at a much more gradual change, somewhere between 50 and 60 students.”
Currently, VISP is partnered with seven universities—two from Korea, three from China, one from Italy, and one from Denmark—but Barnard is now considering the University of Melbourne and a University in Moscow as potential partners. Link said that Barnard also has external funding to support three VISP students from Ghana and three from South Africa for the next five years.
“We’re trying to diversify geographically,” Link said, adding that Barnard is looking to forge ties with universities that don’t supply a lot of full-degree applicants.
For some students in VISP this semester, the experience has given them unique opportunities to live in a completely different academic and social environment.
“This has been such a great experience to me in terms of becoming an empowered woman,” said Chiara Poselle-Bonaventura, a second-year student at Collegio Nuovo. “This experience was also great academically ... but it was also a good personal experience.”
Barnard, Poselle-Bonaventura said, has enabled her to express her opinions more freely. “I feel like the atmosphere is more open-minded. … It’s just different—it’s not better, it’s not worse, but I love it,” she said.
Linqi Zhou, a second-year student from China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, said that her experience in Morningside has given her an opportunity to reflect on her native country. “What I know inside China is different from what I know outside of it,” she said. “How will it [China] be doing in the future? And how is it going to choose between what is right and what is wrong?”
For some VISP students, the unique social experience has been most memorable. Mary Lee, a second-year student at Yonsei University in South Korea, said, “Most of the time when I went there [Korea], I felt like I went there to study and listen to lectures, but here I realized that there’s more social life.”
Bracey Feeng, a third-year student at CFAU, said there have been challenges, such as adjusting to her roommates’ differing perspectives. “At first it’s hard to find a common interest ... but we have shared perspectives based on different cultural backgrounds,” she said.
With only one semester at Barnard, finding time to explore the city can also be challenging for some VISP students.
Zhou said, “I have a paper and take-home essays to write every week, so I don’t go out very much. ... I haven’t done all the tourist things yet.”
Lee added that she didn’t think of participating in club activities when she first arrived. “I feel like I missed out on these fun aspects of college life.”
But Feeng said she has had the opposite problem: “I spent lots of time wandering around, but I feel like I should have focused more on my academics.”
Though the economic crisis has placed strains on universities, Link said that she does not expect it to stop the increase in VISP students.
“Because now people are coming out of the crisis on some level ... I don’t think it should have an effect,” Link said.
Link added that financial arrangements for VISP students vary. “Some of them are direct exchanges, some of them are not, some of them pay tuition in their home countries, some of them do not—so they don’t pay full Barnard tuition,” she said.
Poselle-Bonaventura said she hopes the program will continue to attract more students. “I really hope many other international students will have the opportunity to come here, to the New York experience, to Barnard life, and to Columbia life.”