By Kurt Chirbas
When Ivan Jaksic flew up to California three years ago and attended his annual meeting with administrators at the Bing Overseas Study Program (BOSP), the two parties discussed the possibility of launching a summer overseas program in Santiago, Chile.
“We started talking about what would be the challenges of opening a summer quarter in Santiago,” said Jaksic, director of the BOSP center in the South American city. “That initiated the conversation.”
It took two years of hammering out the details, but BOSP administrators officially made the decision to move forward with a 2014 summer quarter program in Santiago and also recently announced the plans for one in Cape Town in 2015. The winter quarter offering in Santiago will be dropped in consequence of the summer addition.
The Stanford faculty-in-residence, who will stay at the Santiago center during summer 2014, will be Zephyr Frank, associate professor of Latin American history. Frank will teach a course on Latin American history through an engagement with environmental and economic factors. He will also be running a research project involving salmon farming, an industry of immense importance in Santiago, according to Jaskic.
Other courses to be offered during the first summer program in Santiago will focus on ecology, short Latin American fiction and energy management.
Practical rationale prompts the addition
According to Jaksic, the original idea to launch a summer program in Santiago stemmed from practical concerns.
It had always been tough to recruit local faculty members to teach courses and families to host students during Stanford’s winter quarter given the North and South Hemisphere have opposite seasons: at the same time Stanford finds itself in the middle of an academic year, Santiago enters the part of the calendar where many choose to go on vacation.
“People in Santiago take their vacation very seriously,” Jaskic noted, “which means during the January through March period, it is very difficult to find faculty and families.”
Running a Santiago program during the summer—rather than winter—quarter would resolve the problem, Jaskic thought.
But BOSP administrators had additional reasons for wanting to consider a quarter-length summer program.
In the past few years, the office has made a concerted effort to consider ways it can expand and make more flexible its overseas offerings for undergraduate students, said Irene Kennedy, executive director of BOSP.
The Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES) report, which makes a series of recommendations on how to improve the Stanford undergraduate experience, heralds many benefits that come from a student’s decision to study abroad: “linguistic facility,” “self-reflectiveness,” “cultural sensitivity,” “self-reliance,” “adaptability.”
But the report also adds that there are certain segments of the student body that tend to face significant barriers to studying abroad and, as a result, choose to participate in the University’s overseas program in lower numbers. These students include varsity student-athletes who must partake in practices year-round and majors in unit-intensive fields such as Engineering or Natural Sciences who must enroll in yearlong course sequences.
“When we started thinking about ways that we could create opportunities for students who for one reason or another couldn’t go overseas during the year, it seemed logical to try [a summer program in Santiago],” Kennedy said.
Launching the new summer quarter program did not require any additional funds or approval from the university provost, according to Kennedy, because BOSP is dropping the winter quarter of the program in order to add the summer quarter.
BOSP’s dedication to flexibility grows
Before the September announcement, BOSP had already been in the process of adding new overseas offerings to give more undergraduates the opportunity to study abroad.
During the 2011-12 academic year, the University brought back its popular Overseas Seminar program, which allows undergraduates to study abroad during the summer in a three-week course with a small group of peers. Last summer, the University reinstated its Community Health Program in Oaxaca, Mexico—an immersive, four-week training program for students committed to working with the immigrant Latino population in the United States.
But the summer program in Santiago will be the first full-length overseas offering outside of the academic year since the SUES report’s recommendations.
A summer program at the BOSP center in Cape Town, which currently operates during the winter and spring quarters, will follow shortly in 2015 with planning still underway.
“We knew ever since we’ve opened the Cape Town program that we wanted to add a third quarter to Cape Town,” Kennedy said.
“The other part of the Cape Town decision was that we liked the idea that students who were there during spring quarter and started doing community-based learning in the townships would have the opportunity to stay the summer and have more time doing that if they wanted,” she added.
Possibilities for future summer initiatives
While the summer program in Cape Town will likely be limited to 23 students, which corresponds to the number of beds in the guesthouses that undergraduates stay at during the term, Kennedy said BOSP has no expectations on how many students will participate in the Santiago summer program—or even how many students will be interested in applying.
“We are really curious…whether there’s a pent-up demand for summer or whether people have other options in terms of internships and jobs,” Kennedy said.
Depending on the popularity of the Santiago and Cape Town programs—both in terms of quantitative application numbers and qualitative end-of-term evaluations—more summer programs might be added at other BOSP centers.
“I think if those are successful, we’d definitely look at other kinds of summer programs,” Kennedy said. “But it might not necessarily be like a full academic quarter like we are doing in Santiago.”
“I think students will likely see more flexible programs like the Oaxaca program, which is longer that a seminar and shorter than a quarter,” she added.
The summer programs in Cape Town and Santiago might pose some complications with financial aid. Participation in these programs will count as a quarter enrolled as a full-time Stanford student.
Kennedy said BOSP hopes students who participate in these summer programs will not have to spend a 13th quarter at Stanford when full financial aid is not guaranteed.