The Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP) recently waived the language requirement to study abroad in Florence in Winter Quarter 2014 in an effort to encourage more students to apply.
Previously, students had to complete the equivalent of a year’s study in Italian, with preference given to students with additional language study.
“We are always looking for opportunities to challenge students and try out different ways for students who think that they cannot do overseas studies,” said Ramon Saldivar, BOSP director. “We don’t want to stay stuck on our old patterns.”
The decision to waive the language requirement was also partially made in response to the Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES) report.
“The SUES report indicates that the University should encourage more students to participate in one of its Overseas Programs by removing the ‘significant barriers to study abroad,’” wrote Ermelinda Campani, director of the Florence program, in an email to The Daily.
Campani framed the language prerequisite as potentially such a barrier, noting that the program expects an increase in the number of applicants. She described winter quarter as the best time for students to experience Florence.
“We want more students in the winter because it is the ideal time to be here: There are no tourists and the city goes back to belonging to the Florentines,” Campani wrote.
Campani also cited the program’s new base in Palazzo Capponi and certain academic opportunities only offered in winter quarter as potentially driving the increase in applications.
“We just inaugurated our new facilities and they are so special that we want as many Stanford students as possible to experience and take advantage of them,” Campani wrote.
However, Elizabeth Bernhardt, director of the Stanford University language center, expressed concern that the language prerequisite’s removal might be problematic.
“It is never a good idea to lower academic standards, especially when language requirements are scapegoated for student lack of interest,” Bernhardt said. “I don’t really think anyone benefits from that.”
Last academic year, an average of 133 students enrolled in Italian language programs, a slight decrease from previous years. In 2009-2010, there were 181 students enrolled and in 2010-2011 there were 156.
Bernhardt added that waiving the language requirement for overseas programs had been done before for the Berlin and Beijing programs, in both cases also due to the low number of applications.
“We know from research that students who go to any non-English speaking country with some language, make progress,” Bernhardt said. “But it is never smart to go to a non-English speaking country, not knowing some of the language.”
Ashley Geo ’15, who will be in Florence in the fall, was initially disappointed by BOSP’s decision.
“I thought that having had to go through the language requirement was a waste because now there’s none,” Geo said. “I could’ve taken other classes.”
“From a learning standpoint, I’m glad I took it because I think that not having that background would take away a lot from the overall experience,” she added.
Campani maintained that beyond the revised language prerequisite the program would remain the same.
“Students will continue to be placed with Italian families who speak English, and those wishing to take an internship will be able to do so in a work environment where English is also used,” Campani said.
Students have until mid-June to apply for the Winter Quarter program in Florence.