By Ryan Dykhouse
One of the purposes of a college education is to expand intellectual horizons and gain exposure to many different ideas, perspectives and schools of thought on different issues. It is often difficult, however, to gain an appreciation for differing worldviews in an environment that subscribes to a single overarching perspective. In many ways, studying abroad can be one of the greatest assets in any education, with its ability to expose students to new ideas and challenge held beliefs.
I had the opportunity to spend this semester abroad studying at the University of Oxford in England. While here, I have been exposed to ideas and people I would normally never have come across. I have also been able to sit down to tea, or go out to lunch, with people who share a wholly different view of the world than I do. Not only that, but I have been able to attend lectures on subjects I would normally never come into contact with at Olivet, as well as experience the grandeur of a world-class research university.
Probably one of the best experiences I have had while abroad was my tutorial in political theory with Dr. Gideon Elford. Dr. Elford is a junior dean and lecturer at one of the colleges at Oxford, has a Master’s degree and a doctorate, and is only 31 years old. Every other week, when I would prepare an essay on assigned reading for our tutorial, I would look forward to our conversation on issues such as rights, sovereignty and global justice. Not only was I able to discuss academic issues directly with an Oxford professor, but I also was able to gain the perspective of someone who lives a life distinctively different from mine.
Other people who have had the opportunity to study abroad have nothing but amazing things to say, about their experiences, the classes they were able to take, the people they were able to meet and the new perspective they gained from their time in another country or a different academic setting.
Whether it was learning Mandarin Chinese or witnessing first-hand the Arab Spring in Egypt, the ability to go somewhere new for a semester and take advantage of all there is to see and do in the world is an invaluable opportunity for any college student.
Personally, I was fortunate to be able to study abroad at Oxford, not simply because I was accepted to the program, but also because I had the means financially, whether through loans, out-of-pocket payment, or otherwise, to attend the program, however, I know this is not the case for many students at Olivet. In fact, I believe the current financial aid package for study abroad prevents many students from fully realizing their collegiate opportunities.
Currently, Olivet offers students up to $2,500 in scholarship money for studying abroad. It doesn’t matter what your current scholarship package is, because the maximum amount that can be received is $2,500. While this might seem like a substantial amount, it is a drop in the bucket when compared to a semester abroad that can cost anywhere from $14,000 to $18,000. Students who currently rely on financial aid or merit or athletic scholarships to fund their college education are not able to fund study abroad opportunities with scholarship.
To be fair, the university has reasons for not crediting study abroad students with their full scholarships. The way scholarships at Olivet work, and the way they work at almost all universities, is essentially as a discount on attending school. It does not cost anything out of pocket for Olivet to offer scholarships, but it is instead a deferred cost of admission for aided students. Study abroad programs, on the other hand, take money directly from the
University, thus costing Olivet money. If Olivet were to subsidize study abroad fully for every student who wanted to do so, it could end up being financially disastrous for the University. It is for this reason I believe Olivet has opted to support students, but only very minimally.
I want to suggest Olivet takes a second look at its funding policy for study abroad programs. Clearly, study abroad opportunities are a significant draw for prospective students, and can add a substantial amount of value to any student who undertakes a semester, or even a year, abroad. While Olivet has good reasons for limiting its amount of aid offered, I believe there is perhaps a better way to approach study abroad scholarship so that every student can have a better opportunity at gaining a rich experience in a vastly different academic and living environment, without having to shoulder a heavy financial burden.