Since Chicago’s first tentative
foray into study abroad—during the 1983–84 academic
year, when seven third-years participated in the year-long,
piggyback programs run in Paris by Sarah Lawrence College
and in Bologna, Italy, by Brown University—Lewis Fortner
has been the person for wanderlusting students to see.
Back then, study abroad required only
a small portion of his time as an academic adviser. Now
asso- ciate dean of students in the College and academic
director of the Study Abroad Programs—23 run by Chicago
and nine by two consortia of schools—this year Fortner,
along with associate dean and assistant director Francisco
Santamarina and associate dean of international & second-language
education Stephanie Latkovski, will oversee the global comings
and goings of about 360 students.
The rapid growth in study abroad corresponds
with the deanship of John Boyer, for whom a priority is
enabling College students to be global citizens. With students
traveling the world through the programs or with Foreign
Language Acquisition Grants for summertime study, Fortner
estimates that fully one-third of current graduating classes
has some significant international study or work experience.
Are some programs harder to get into than
others? If so, why?
Some are difficult to get into and
others much easier. It’s a function of the ratio between
demand and available slots. All of the eight civilization
programs are popular; some are exceedingly popular. An example
of the latter is the program in Barcelona [Spain], where
there are two or three applications for every slot. It’s
clear why Barcelona would be popular: students don’t
need any Spanish beforehand, and it’s Barcelona in
winter quarter. There are palm trees. But there are only
25 slots. Our Paris and Rome civilization programs [which
also don’t require language knowledge] are equally
high in demand.
By contrast there’s
a program like the one in Toledo, Spain: a wonderful, intensive
language program at the intermediate level. You must have
a year of Spanish. That already eliminates most of the College.
Yet this program can expand exponentially; there isn’t
a limited number of slots. So if you’ve done the background
work in Spanish and you’re eager to learn and improve
upon it, you can go to Toledo, no problem.
And then there are the academic-year
programs. I just was in Berlin visiting the ten students
there, a record-breaking number for us in Berlin. The students
are studying their subjects—literature, political
science, anthropology, what have you—at the Freie
Universität alongside German students. They must have
at least two years of German, and they must have a backbone.
Far and away most of the College is eliminated from this
opportunity. But those students are happy as clams.
Where are the most
The civilization programs in Cape Town, South Africa, and
Pune, India, are the most out of the way. Last year the
India program was introduced and was held in Mumbai [Bombay];
14 students participated. That’s a low number for
a civilization program, but to study in India will always
be a specialized interest. Cape Town was introduced two
years ago; 24 students participated last year.
What is the faculty’s
role in the civilization programs?
The faculty play absolutely an essential role: they create
the courses. They decide what to teach; create a syllabus,
which is different each year because the faculty members
change; and then they teach the course. More than one returning
faculty member has said this is the most intense teaching
experience of their careers. These are compressed courses,
in which faculty meet pretty much daily with the students
and to which are attached excursions that they lead. They
also become part of the student-support system in a way
that wouldn’t happen on campus. They get to know the
students very well. They get rained on together.
What will be the
Paris Center’s impact on study abroad?
The Paris Center represents a crossing of a new line: actually
owning real estate abroad. It’s a bold move. Already
there are five separate programs in Paris, the academic-year
program and then one for each quarter. The new program being
offered next autumn—a civilization sequence taught
entirely in French—will make six. Already we’re
sending more students to Paris than anywhere else, and the
hope is that this becomes not just a center for Chicago
students studying in Paris but a cultural center in Paris
with Chicago’s stamp on it.
Does the cost of
study abroad skew it out of the reach of low-income students?
I like to think back to the pre-1983 days, when the only
way a Chicago student could go abroad was to take a leave
of absence and go on another university’s program
or, more rarely, apply directly to a foreign university.
Students did that. Students have been going abroad for years
and years. But the students who were able to do it were
those who weren’t tethered to big financial-aid packages.
Financial independence gave them independence of movement.
If a Chicago student got a fair bit of financial aid, leaving
to do a program abroad with another school meant leaving
financial aid. This is a school where a lot of students
get financial aid, so for most it was impossible.
One idea behind our study-abroad programs
was to make financial aid available to participants. Now,
everybody pays tuition, and everybody retains their financial-aid
eligibility. If you’re getting no financial aid, you
will continue to get none. If you’re getting a ton
of financial aid—and some students are—you continue
to get it. We send students to some very expensive places—Paris,
Berlin, London. These students would have no hope of studying
in these cities before portable financial aid became available.
That we have our own programs and make financial aid available
have democratized this experience dramatically.
At the same time there are extra expenses
that you would not have if you stayed put: round-trip airfare
and the study-abroad administrative fee, which will be $500
next year. Financial aid is willing to increase the amount
of recommended loan to help students pay for that; in some
cases that’s possible, in others students are already
receiving the maximum loan.
For the child of a poor family, study
abroad will always be a stretch, but at the same time it
will always be possible. There is a large element of self-fulfillment
in a student’s attitude. A student who comes and says,
“I will do it, I will go abroad,” will do it.
They’ll find a way. A student who comes saying, “Absolutely
no way can I afford this” is already defeated. We
have the greatest respect for these students who pull this
off. And when they return to us, this person with this larger
view of the world and of themselves, we feel great.
The single biggest difference between
the College as it is now and the College as it was 20 years
ago is that there are more possibilities. Study abroad is
certainly a part of that.