My first memory of studying abroad in France was when Professor Caesar Akuetey chastised me for using English. His persistent singing of, “tout le monde parle franais ici,” (everyone speaks French here) grew from an annoying poke in the side to the backbone of my experience in Besançon, France.
While a student, I was fortunate to study abroad two separate times: first, through a third-party program in Beijing, China during my junior year and a second time the following year through the Knox Besançon program in France. Although my academic experiences were very similar — a variety of language and culture classes — my relationship with the countries outside of the classroom became the defining factor of my time abroad. Without a doubt, the Knox program was the bridge between being a student studying in France to being an individual living there. It is because of the profound impact the Knox Besançon program had on my education that I implore the administration to reconsider its decision to suspend the Buenos Aires and Besançon programs.
I can understand the priority of trying to reduce the cost of studying abroad; however, something must be said about sacrificing a smaller and more family-based program for an institutionalized and less supportive one. After participating in both types, I can attest to the quality of a smaller program that provides a “home base” of resources and support for students. Not only did Professor Akuetey, the on-site director at the time, help us sort out our academic affairs, he made an effort to recognize our birthdays, challenge us to weekly Scrabble games (and beat us mercilessly in French and English) and host monthly “family dinners” to check in on our classes and adjustment to living abroad.
After the November 2015 attacks in Paris, it was Caesar who was the first to reach out to us and make sure we were safely in Besançon (or in the case of two students, in different countries). He assured us of our safety and communicated to us the messages of support and concern we received from professors and administrators back in Galesburg. He turned Besançon into an extension of Knox and helped us to push the boundaries of our education, both in times of mourning and in celebration.
Knox’s dedication to the 3 programs at risk not only provided a network of support for students participating in these programs, it conveyed the college’s dedication to a global education. Rather than placing students in third-party programs to be sent to different countries, it sponsored them. It facilitated study-abroad in ways that made it accessible to any student that was interested: a matched tuition price, easy transfer of credit and an identical academic schedule. The dedication professors showed by maintaining these programs — be it by traveling abroad to be with students or designing the curriculum and hosting workshops — highlighted the value of attending a small liberal arts school. Three-hour long group dinners with the director — a cultural norm we picked up quickly — and evening strolls became just as important as dining at a kebab truck and getting an afternoon coffee with classmates.
There is a reason the 3 Bs have lasted so long at Knox: they provide an invaluable and unparalleled experience to students. I understand that approaches to education are changing; however, I believe that means Knox should become more prepared to engage its students in a diverse, well-rounded and globalized curriculum, rather than rely on other institutions to do so. Investing more in Besanon and Buenos Aires in such a way that reflects recent changes in study abroad would undoubtedly benefit Knox’s reputation and help bolster both the Spanish and French departments.
A 21st-century education calls for campuses to be more engaged with the world as a whole Ñ what better way to do that than to have remote campuses in other countries? Our school has the potential to encourage a student-centered study abroad experience and I would hate for it to step back from the opportunity to do so.