Campus / Featured / News / April 25, 2019

3B study abroad programs suspended

Fall Term 2018 Barcelona study abroad students posing during an excursion trip to Montenartó in the Pyrenees in Spain. (Photo Courtesy of Alec Hegg)

Sophomore Akash Patel had planned on going abroad through a Knox program since before his freshman year. As a pre-med student, he worked to get all his introductory sequences out of the way so he could go abroad to Barcelona this fall.

After applying before the Feb. 1 deadline, Patel was notified that the program would not be running in the fall after all. Director of Global Studies Bren Tooley suggested an outside-sourced semester-length program instead.

“But I decided not to do that. I really wanted to go on the Knox program with the students,” Patel said. “There’s something to be said about the relationships you form through study abroad.”

He even decided to drop his Spanish minor, which he was planning on using in the medical field, and completing while abroad in Barcelona.

“The only way I’m going to be able to be comfortable through the language is through an immersive experience. … Without the immersion, the minor just doesn’t seem as worth it,” he said.

This upcoming fall, the three Knox-run study abroad programs in Barcelona, Besançon, and Buenos Aires (the 3B’s) will not run due to low enrollment.

The Barcelona program will run again in the winter and spring, and is still accepting applications for those terms, says Professor of Modern Languages Robin Ragan. This is the first time that the Barcelona program has not run since beginning in 1969.

The Buenos Aires and Besançon programs were both previously suspended for the 2017-18 school year. Since then, the Buenos Aires program, which is fall-only, has run once, in 2018.

According to an email announcement to campus from former dean and current Professor of English Laura Behling, when the programs were initially suspended two years ago — to much student dissent — the college faced a $70K deficit by running the programs.

In the last few years, the Barcelona program has had about 10 students enrolled each term, says Ragan. There are currently nine students enrolled for the winter and five students enrolled for the spring.

Part of the problem, she says, is that students seem to be opting for shorter-term study abroad programs that take place over winter break each year.

“I think students want to do so many things and they don’t want to miss out on anything either, so the two week program probably seems like I get something but I don’t have to give anything up,” Ragan said.

Alternatively, another factor could be risk aversion, winter break being a shorter commitment to go abroad than a full term. Financially, the programs have a fee that is added to the full year’s tuition. For example, the course fee for London Arts Alive is $4,500. The trimester 3B programs cost the same amount as a regular Knox trimester — plus airfare — and financial aid can apply.

Less students committing to Knox programs in addition to them studying for fewer terms means that the program would need even more student interest to be able to run.

Fall term 3018 study abroad students pose in front of a beach front in Sitges, Catalonia. (Photo Courtesy of Alec Hegg)

“Back in my day, when I was young, everybody studied abroad for a whole year. And it’s just gradually shortened, and shortened and shortened, and that’s part of the problem with our enrollment troubles,” Ragan said.

Going on the Barcelona program for a full year was integral to Tom Grizzle’s ‘17 language learning experience, as well as his life in general. He said that he only fully settled in after the first term, and was able to fully immerse himself into life in Spain afterward.

“I had a life in Spain, and that was the life that mattered. Spanish friends, Spanish all the time, Spanish people I lived with, thanks to Knox, because of the families they provide,” he said.

Although he originally went on the Barcelona program to improve his Spanish and become fluent, he ended up having a completely transformative experience that he would not have experienced otherwise.

“The Spanish language, the skills were a big plus … but definitely not the most important thing I gained from the experience,” Grizzle said. “I think in the end it was creating an entire new life in a different place in a different language and learning a lot about a different culture, yourself especially.”

Senior Maria Lino wanted to attend the Buenos Aires program in the fall of her junior year after her friends recommended it. However, the program was suspended that fall, so she decided to go on the Barcelona program instead. This year, she attended the Buenos Aires program while it was running again.

She says that while each are different programs in very different cities, she loved both. She especially loved living in the middle of the city during her time in Barcelona, and studying with the professors at the University of Barcelona.

“It was really amazing,” she said. “The professors were really nice and they knew a lot.”

Junior Alec Hegg attended the Barcelona program this fall. Although he looked at many different programs, he decided on the Knox program partially because of its convenience. Since the program is trimester-based and the classes are technically Knox classes, they would be guaranteed to transfer over.

“So it was partly convenience, and just in addition, it’s a really great program,” he said.

Grizzle credits the Knox program with giving him the structure he needed to move all the way across the world.

“Knox gives you a structure, it gives you familiarity, that’s huge. … Especially for me,” he said. “The first few days, they took us around, they got us from the airport, they really make it a lot easier those first few days, going into the first few weeks, into the first few months because … you see the remnants of a familiar structure in an unfamiliar place.”

The programs are open to any students in the country, but because of their trimester style are rarely attended.

“I don’t think Knox advertises their programs as well as they should, because I think they’re amazing programs, if more people know about it, more people would sign up,” Lino said.

There are many more study abroad programs available to students now than there were 50 years ago when the Barcelona program began, says Ragan, another potential reason attendance on the programs may be low. Students are now making decisions about where to study abroad less because of where they want to go, and more because of what they want to study.

“The study abroad providers have responded with offering classes almost exclusively in English,” Ragan said. “So it’s much easier for students to study almost anywhere in the world now, and not have to learn the language.”

Senior Francesca Downs, who attended the Buenos Aires program this fall, says that other programs can offer the same kinds of things as Knox. She found herself uninterested in her classes and unsure what to do with her time.

“I think with these programs, these study abroad programs, it’s really a hit or miss. And really depends on where you go, too.”

However, many students saw other programs as inferior to Knox’s when they saw them first hand. Hegg says that he met other students while in Barcelona on other programs who were living in apartment-style living with other American students.

“I can only imagine most of them were speaking English all the time, as opposed to we were in homestays, where we were forced one way or another to interact with other native speakers in Spanish,” Hegg said.

Knox pairs students with host families in all of the 3B programs. Lino shared that she is still in touch with her host siblings from Buenos Aires and is planning on meeting up with them soon.

“If we hold onto the value of host families, we’re keeping something very special,” Ragan said.

Hegg remembers celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the Barcelona program while he was abroad. President Teresa Amott and former professor Jorge Prats, who began the program, flew out to Spain for the occasion.

“After having this program for 50 years,” Hegg said, “it’s really a shame that the year after we reached that mile marker we can’t put enough people for one of the terms.”

Erika Riley, Editor-in-Chief
Erika Riley is a junior majoring in creative writing and minoring in journalism. During her sophomore year, she worked as a news editor, and during her freshman year, she worked as a layout editor. She is the winner of the 2017 Ida M. Tarbell Prize for Investigative Reporting and the recipient of First Place Front Page Layout from the Illinois Press Association in 2016. Twitter: @ej_riley

Tags:  3b 3Bs akash patel alec hegg barcelona besancon buenos aires francesca downs host family knox study abroad maria lino robin ragan study abroad tom grizzle

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1 Comment

Apr 25, 2019

This is really tragic both for Knox as an institution and for Knox students. As a Knox alum who spent my whole junior year in Barcelona I know what a huge mistake current students make when they think that spending a couple weeks somewhere else while speaking English and never really knowing any locals is somehow the equivalent of study abroad. It is not. Knox in Barcelona transformed my life more than anything I did on campus at Knox and every job I have ever gotten in my life since returning from Barcelona was thanks to my year in Barcelona (and the fluency in Spanish that I could not have acquired otherwise). That of course includes my current job (Professor of Political Science, Latin American Studies, and Gender and Women’s Studies).

This could have been avoided had the administration seen fit to put resources into supporting our own programs instead of promoting a hundred non-Knox programs, many of which are inferior to our own as students live in an English-language bubble. Would we encourage students to transfer to the University of Illinois for a semester “abroad”? Obviously not and that is what has happened when non-Knox student abroad is promoted over Knox study abroad.

Are you a student considering study abroad? Knox in Barcelona is your best bet but if you have not studied Spanish there are some non-Knox programs that are as good as the Knox ones. Make sure that there is a home stay (and not just for a week) and that you have the opportunity to learn the local language. This is the only time in your life that you will get financial aid and Knox power of experience money to study abroad. Don’t waste that chance by choosing an English-language bubble experience.

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