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Columbia Spectator Staff

Barnard hopes to make it BIG on an international scale. The Barnard provost and study abroad offices, in conjunction with a few students, launched a new group on campus this semester called the Barnard International Group (BIG). Its launch is a direct outgrowth of President Spar's new mission to internationalize the college. According to Dean for Study Abroad Advising Gretchen Young, who also serves as the group's faculty advisor, BIG aims to create an informal, informational forum for students interested in studying abroad—both before and after they go overseas—as well as a welcoming atmosphere for international students visiting Barnard. "We wanted to create more dialogue for students returning from study abroad; focus on the academics of study abroad; help students incorporate what they learned abroad in their academic studies here," Young said, adding that BIG would serve as a forum for students to discuss their experiences with others considering a semester abroad. She also stressed a need for more faculty involvement in students' preparation for studying abroad. "In my vision, we would have more input from faculty as to which programs they think students should go to, provide contacts they have with foreign universities, and help students integrate what they learned to the classroom," she said. Young added that she communicates frequently with the president, and Hilary Link, the assistant provost and the dean of international programs. Approximately 35 percent of the student body studies abroad and roughly 164 students will be studying abroad next semester, Young said. There has not been an informal Barnard student group linking these foreign travelers until this year. Danielle diFilipo, BC '10 and founder of BIG, highlighted the group's role not only in academics, but in more casual social settings as well. "We want people coming back from abroad to have a place to discuss their experiences," she said, adding in jest that "friends get sick of hearing about the experiences." So far, BIG has planned a few events, such as a panel discussing different teaching styles in foreign universities and the United States, and another on how to keep healthy and safe in foreign countries. The group is now planning a study break in Lewis Parlor for Dec. 9, when students interested in studying abroad can meet returning students who will share their experiences. Still, the student response to BIG has not been very strong. "It's brand-new, so it's hard to get students interested," Difilipo said. Ilana Borzak, BC '10, studied abroad in Australia last semester and attended the BIG panel on academic cultural shock, which she said was disappointing. "It was over-generalizing," she said, adding that it appeared to be "a waste of time." Jamila Barra, BC '13, an international student from Berlin, Germany who expressed interest in studying abroad, thinks there should be a strong outlet on campus for international students, but says she hasn't found it yet. "I would benefit from a greater international student group community," she said. But the pioneers of BIG and other students on campus remain optimistic. "We are just starting, so we are not discouraged," Young said. She added that BIG is a great forum to "quantify how much learning people bring back from their study abroad experiences and how they are bringing it back to the classroom." Bo Yun Park, BC '12 and SGA Sophomore Class President, comes from Seoul, South Korea and has immersed herself in the multicultural and international scene at Barnard. "BIG is a really good initiative, especially under the theme of internationalizing Barnard," she said, adding that, "When we talk about internationalization, it's very easy for it to be just about getting Barnard's name out there, but it's really about bringing internationalism to the Barnard community." news@columbiaspectator.com

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