In recent weeks, there has been much talk of Columbia’s Global Center initiatives. The newly established Global Scholars Programs have stood at the forefront of these discussions. As participants in the pilot year of GSP in Paris, we would like to share our experiences so that students considering applying to GSP will have a more complete picture of the opportunities available to them—ones that we feel have not been clearly articulated in the discussion thus far.
For the uninitiated, GSP in Paris is a spring semester and summer study-abroad program in which students not only have the opportunity to study in local French universities, but also to design and carry out independent research projects. The program features a multidisciplinary seminar intended to help students hone valuable research skills such as locating an archive and giving a conference presentation. The summer portion is devoted to planning, researching, and writing a 25-page paper that represents the culmination of what students have learned from the entire program.
It is first necessary to dispel misconceptions about GSP. Having experienced the GSP firsthand, we feel that certain Spectator articles (“Students debate Global Scholars Programs’ role,” Sept. 28) (“At global summit day 2, a focus on undergrads,” Sept. 19), and related coverage create a false binary between GSP and what the article terms more “traditional study abroad programs.” To start, the article inaccurately claims that GSP students did not benefit from French language classes. Secondly, although it is true that a homestay experience was not an option for this year’s GSP students, it will be available for the 2013 program. Lastly, while other summer programs hosted at Columbia Global Centers may not be funded, the GSP fully covered all students’ summer housing and living expenses.
There were certainly some drawbacks to the pilot year, especially concerning administrative matters that will surely be resolved in the future. The Office of Global Programs and Global Centers Europe administrators have been incredibly receptive and responsive to student concerns and are committed to improving the experience of future program participants. While we cannot speak to the plans to meet the specific needs of SEAS and GS students, our understanding is that those behind the Global Centers initiatives intend to make study abroad experiences a reality for all Columbia students.
More broadly, we want to emphasize that the most cherished features of the “traditional” study abroad experience were very much present in the GSP program—that is, the opportunity to learn a foreign language, to travel, to take classes in a local university, to feel immersed in the host culture, and to grow and challenge oneself in ways that would not be possible in a more familiar environment. We, like other students at Reid Hall, spoke French every day. We also befriended local students, often in our French university classrooms. We too traveled throughout Europe, both on our own (bars in Berlin, the beach in Barcelona) and on GSP-sponsored excursions (a nuclear reactor in the Loire Valley, the seaport in Naples). In addition to all of these traditional facets—which were very important to us—we went one step further. The GSP’s promise of a funded summer allowed us to explore our research interests in the absence of the other academic, extracurricular, and job-related responsibilities we all normally undertake during our semesters in Morningside Heights.
The unique structure of GSP, rather than taking away from these aspects of classic study abroad, enhances them. For example, prior to starting the program, three of our classmates had only a beginning level of French. By June, all of them were conducting independent research drawn partially or entirely from French historical documents, critical essays, and personal interviews. The program includes a cornerstone of the Columbia undergraduate experience—a small-group seminar—but an interdisciplinary one that challenged us not only to engage new ideas, but also to do so in a global context. The virtue of GSP is its flexibility. Rather than impose a set idea of what a semester abroad should be or should mean, GSP gave us the tools, space, and support to figure it out for ourselves.
Liz Jacob is a Columbia College senior majoring in history and French and Francophone studies. Ella Wagner is a Columbia College senior majoring in American studies. They participated in Paris’ Global Scholars Program last year.
To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.