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Returning home from study abroad presents challenges for students

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As the new semester starts many Swarthmore students who studied abroad last semester are back and ready to share their experiences. Swarthmore students have a choice of many programs and countries, ranging from China to France. Mayra Tenorio ’15, a Sociology/Anthropology and Gender and Sexuality Studies major, even studied in four different countries in one program. “My program is called Women and Gender Studies in Europe and one of the best thing about it is that it allowed me to study in Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic and Poland,” she said.

Even in such diverse programs, it is possible for students to keep up with their major requirements. Yet actually studying abroad is more complicated than one might expect.

According to returning Swatties, many procedures are necessary to make the study abroad experience both enjoyable and eligible for Swarthmore credits.

“Before I left, I talked to the department and got a pre-approval of the courses I will be taking in Peking University,” said Briani George ’15, a Health and Societies special major who is also learning advanced Chinese.

The same goes for Hannah Kosman ’14, who said that a pre-estimation of credits was required before she studied in Paris. Pre-estimation involves showing the heads of academic departments specific contents of your program and proving that they are eligible for Swarthmore credits. According to Kosman, the process can be strict.

“To get the credits, you have to take classes that are compatible with the ones already existing at Swarthmore,” said Tenorio, who spent two weeks negotiating with the Sociology/Anthropology department regarding to the credits she will receive. “It took me a really long time to negotiate with the head of my departments to approve the courses.”

Also, it is worth noticing that some classes abroad can be estimated to be worth less than one credit at Swarthmore. Christine Pham ’14, a psychology major who studied abroad in Japan, had classes that were estimated to be worth 0.75 credits at Swarthmore.

Moreover, having a pre-estimation does not ensure getting those credits. “I saved everything — handouts, notes, essays, etc.,” said Kosman, who had trouble bringing the materials back, “so I could give it to the departments I was seeking credit from.”

Proving that one’s classes are legitimate appears to be essential to the departments, as Tenorio and George also said that they brought all of their papers, notes and assignments back.

Other factors also affect how many credits students receive for their program. Kosman, for example, realized that one of her pre-estimated classes turned out to have a much lighter workload than expected and thus she will receive 0.5 credits instead of one for this class. She said she thinks this is reasonable. George, however, discovered that one of her pre-estimated classes actually consist of two sub-classes and she had to take both of them to complete the course.

“Fingers crossed,” she said about her plans, “I will get 4.5 credits. I’ll try to persuade them to give me the extra credit because in fact I took one more class than planned.” Tenorio’s case was even more interesting: one of her classes included content from both Sociology and Gender and Sexuality studies, and after negotiations, the Gender and Sexuality Studies Department is giving her 0.4 credits and Sociology/Anthropology is giving her 0.6 credits, leaving her with one full credit. This is different from her pre-estimation but she is content that she did get a full credit.

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