Barnard students study overseas as more international students come to the college

Illustration by Jimmy Tierney

Under the leadership of President Debora Spar, Barnard is becoming a more global campus. To explain what that means for the College, the annual Leadership Assembly for Barnard’s alumnae volunteer leaders featured a panel on “International Study.” The October 8 panel included two American students who had pursued study abroad and two international students who chose to attend Barnard. “One of President Spar’s primary initiatives is to internationalize the College,” says Gretchen Young, dean for study abroad. She explains, “In our increasingly globalized marketplace students must have cross-cultural experience, language skills, and a proven ability to function in unfamiliar environments, to be successful—not only professionally but simply to be good citizens. Beyond that, I feel that it is important for Barnard students to step out of their comfort zones, to be questioned for what they believe or value, and to realize that their way of being, their perceptions of what is true, may not be as widely accepted as they may think.”

The Admissions office is actively recruiting a wider pool of international candidates. There is also the Visiting International Students Program, which invites foreign students to spend a semester, or even full year, at Barnard. This spring the campus will welcome 59 students from 10 schools, including the University of Ghana, the University of Melbourne, and colleges in China, Denmark, Italy, South Korea, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

The heart of international study, of course, remains study abroad. “We want to increase the quality and number of opportunities for students,” says Young. “Research and internships are part of an undergraduate experience. So are crosscultural experiences and developing language skills.”

There’s more to study abroad than Reid Hall in Paris. With about 150 programs, including American-run opportunities, such as those at NYU, Syracuse, and Sarah Lawrence, as well as foreign ones available to Barnard students, some 66 students studied in 27 different countries this fall, with destinations ranging from Argentina to Nepal. About 35 percent of Barnard students study abroad at some point during their undergraduate years.

“Not only are we trying to better prepare our students to study abroad, but we are also focusing on encouraging students to bring back their learning and helping them to integrate their overseas experience into their overall Barnard education; [we want them to] share their experiences with the rest of the community,” says Young.

The students on the panel spoke about their interest in study abroad, as well as cultural dislocations and surprises they experienced as a result. Kenyan native Clare Korir ’12 was attracted to Barnard because “I liked the feel of a women’s college. Women could be more appreciated in Kenya. I wanted to be with ‘strong, beautiful’ Barnard women.”

As the daughter of Christine Herring Bruscagli ’82, and niece of Pat Herring Parisi ’77 and Nancy Herring ’79, Elisabetta Bruscagli ’13, who has lived most of her life in Italy, explains, “My American option was always Barnard. It’s more than classes and professors. It’s about the people you meet. Going to school in Italy for so long, I didn’t know that a school could care about you. It’s what drew me to the U.S., and to Barnard.”

Brooklyn native Dueaa Elzin ’11, a political science major, attended the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Elzin found that because the British system expects students to be “hyper-specialized,” as compared to Barnard’s liberal arts approach, the students she encountered immersed themselves in their fields, “like being a PhD student,” Elzin observes. “At SOAS, the students I encountered didn’t have the preoccupation with postgraduate plans that students have here, and were studying languages, such as Burmese and Tagalog, and cultures that they were truly passionate about.” A fascination with China that stemmed from an eighth-grade, 10-day trip to that country motivated senior Elizabeth Reynolds, an Asian and Middle Eastern cultures major, to pursue nearly every opportunity to study in China as an undergraduate, including summer and semester programs. “I have my heart set on going back to Asia for two or three years,” says Reynolds. “I’m not sure what I want to do; I know where I want to do it.”

Studying abroad—overseas for American students, or Morningside Heights for international ones—is likely to be even more important going forward. As Elzin believes, “You can’t be global and open-minded without actually leaving Barnard and [your home] country.”

- Merri Rosenberg