Scamtastic Study Abroad Programs: What to do?

To the barricades, responsible faculty!

Today’s post is a letter from a reader who, as she says, wants to “start a conversation with fellow academics about faculty abuse of study abroad programs.”  I myself have never taught in one, so this one goes out to you readers who have taught in a study abroad program.  Does this letter ring true?

Dear Historiann,

I just returned from co-teaching for the first time in a summer study abroad program which is run by my department, and I was fairly sickened by the behavior of my colleague in charge.  Specifically, I was troubled by his absence, as he was out of town for 6 out of 7 days a week, for two weeks in a row, on vacation with family. He taught no classes during that time, leaving the students either to take little tests administered by an assistant, or to do site visits by themselves. I continued to teach my class as scheduled. He is the lead coordinator of this program every year, but he appears to use it for family vacations where they have free accommodations and generous per diem which more than covers expenses for them all.

Another colleague has set up a yearly study abroad program during the academic year, such that she is away from campus for up to 6 months every year. She owns property in the city where her program is run, but still claims a huge per diem and lodging expenses. I have it on good authority from former students that she also regularly leaves students to fend for themselves.

In both cases, a second faculty member is always brought along, and it’s almost never a transparent selection process–these colleagues are hand-picked among the friends of the person in charge, becoming a way to bestow and repay favors. More often than not, the second faculty member knows nothing about the country and culture they will be teaching in.

I should make the distinction between what I experienced and the many rigorous study abroad programs that actually place students in foreign universities or internship situations. What I observed was abuse of so-called “bubble programs” which are set up and run usually by one or two faculty members with a vested interest in being in that country regularly, and in which students participate as in a bubble, with little to no contact with the host country’s institutions or people.

I’d be curious to know if your readers have observed similar abuses, and if so, have they found a way to address them? Study abroad programs often fall under the radar screen, since they are usually self-sustaining and not held to regular university budgets or rules. And I suspect that even if colleagues are aware of what’s going on, they keep quiet because they hope that they will be able to benefit from it too, by being invited along one year. But it is appalling to ask students to fund what are essentially faculty vacations and unnecessary per diems. The whole experience has brought out my inner Republican.  I find myself fantasizing about program audits, and fuming self-righteously about corrupt professors.  I’m at a large state university, which like most has been hit massively by budget cuts, but it seems that some of our study abroad programs remain bastions of financial bloat and unaccountability to students (both financial and pedagogical), which haven’t really been examined yet.

I want to do something but am not quite sure yet to whom I can talk safely, since even my chair and dean have at some point benefited from one or both of these programs!


I Used to Be Disgusted, But Now I Try to Be Amused

Dear Disgusted and Amused,

I have no experience with study abroad programs, but my sense is that the majority of U.S. students participate in “bubble” programs led by U.S.-based faculty rather than the kinds of immersion programs that feature study in another university in the host country.  (Quite frankly, I’m sure the language barrier is the major reason–and shame on us!)  I have never heard of such an abuse of bubble program privilege, but I can’t say I’m completely surprised.  I also don’t think it’s entirely shocking that none of your students have blown the whistle on this kind of faculty neglect–after all, most undergrads are looking for a pretty light workload in study abroad programs, so it might be that the setup by Professor Shirky McShirker works for them, too.

(Is it possible that his responsibilities are mostly administrative rather than teaching?  Might he have cleared his vacation in advance with your chair or the dean?  But if the chair and the dean are in on the gig, then, I guess that’s not morally exculpatory.)

If these programs are self-funding, none of the students complain, and your chair and dean are in on it all, then I don’t think there’s anything you can do about them other than 1) refuse to participate again in a program you find morally problematic and educationally dubious, and 2) make an effort to steer your students toward immersion programs rather than your colleagues’ scamtastic bubble programs.  Sadly, in the large, underfunded state universities we work in, busting up programs like these that aren’t a suck on uni resources is likely not a priority.

In fact, it seems like this is the kind of “entrepreneurial” initiative that universities like mine are encouraging faculty to set up!  So long as it doesn’t cost money or even makes the uni a buck or two, it seems like anything goes.  (This is pretty much the rationale for selling online courses, isn’t it?  They might be worthless, but so long as the students earn their credit and don’t complain, then everyone is happy.)

Don’t get me wrong, though, D&A–I’m with you.  I’d rather surrender my passport than participate in something so morally and intellectually bankrupt.  But I’m afraid that so long as the program isn’t literally bankrupt, and  especially if it even makes bank, this dog don’t hunt.

Readers:  over to you.

33 thoughts on “Scamtastic Study Abroad Programs: What to do?

  1. I participated in two excellent off-campus programs while in undergrad, one abroad (a year-long immersion program at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland) and a semester-long humanities intensive in Southern Oregon. I picked my program in Scotland in large part because it wasn’t going to be a “bubble” program but rather would settle me with Scottish students taking upper-level History courses alongside their Honors undergrads. As a program alum, I spent the semester immediately after college graduation working full-time for the program as assistant to the director.

    One of the major issues — apart from the language barrier — with immersion programs is expense. Many schools will not let financial aid follow students off-campus unless the program is sponsored by the home school (read: bubble programs) and/or will be reluctant to transfer/translate foreign university credits earned back to the student’s record. Some courses of study (the sciences, teacher education) with a heavy burden of sequential requirements make study abroad in a non-approved program virtually impossible unless students have enough money and flexibility that they can extend their studies (taking additional courses to make up for the year abroad) and fund their time abroad out of pocket.

    I’m sure there are examples of faculty from the US who use the study abroad programs as an opportunity to pursue their own interests at the expense of student learning — this was thankfully not the case (at least I never heard reports of such exploitation) at my alma mater. But beyond individual faculty issues, there is a systemic lack of institutional support in the US for students traveling abroad as part of their undergraduate programs.


  2. I have never experienced or been around a situation like this. I actually find it surprising, since in my acquaintance with such programs, administration are considered a lot about liability, and faculty in charge have shown a continual elevated stress level about what students might be up to at all times.


  3. Two years in a row we traveled overseas and served as baby sitters/helper/support group for my better half’s grandkids while their father taught in an abroad program. He is fully dedicated and never missed a dinner with students let alone a class. The other one/two participants were proper too.

    Abuse happens everywhere and academics are as good as anyone at taking advantage teaching avoidance, grabbing resources, steal ideas, etc.


  4. I’ve never done one or run one, but I do get very sketchy solicitation brochure materials from companies that broker these into existence, and it’s somehow transparently clear that they want to set up something that involves de facto collusion between the company and the faculty. You rope in X-number of undergraduates, and not only is your travel and accomodation free while overseas, but there are hints and suggestions of ongoing relationships and what-not kinds of incentives. Since I never pursued one, it’s not clear what the nexus would be between these commercially-brokered enterprises and any given university’s administrative systems for such.

    The “bubble” problem goes beyond language. I was in London some years ago on an NEH Summer Seminar thing, and we stayed in the residences of a college that was ostensibly as British as Beefeater Gin, but actually run behind the scenes by an American college. We were in residence for 5-6 weeks, but American collegiate touring groups rotated in and out every week, filling most of the rooms/beds. They were uniformuly undergraduates, so, heck, incunabula were understandably not on their to see lists. But many of these kids didn’t even want to go out for pasty pies, or to ride double-decker buses. When they learned (after about five minutes) that this “college” had its own in-dorm pub, that was all ze wrote. They piled in there and it was hell on wheels until all hours of the morning before the buses rolled up to take them off to a similar place in North York. No sign that their instructors were trying to constrain them, much less broaden their cultural perspectives, even on Churchill’s fabled “English-Speaking Peoples.”

    None of this is to say or suggest that there are not many very valuable programs under this category.


  5. All to familiar to me. I was director of international education for a while, and found that the most ‘successful’ programs – those that made year after year – were both bubble programs and cases of faculty abuse. One faculty member took a group of grad students to London – and gave grad credit for pub crawls. Hir idea of site visits were the Jack the Ripper walking tour and a 30 minute stop at the gift shop of New Scotland Yard. They stayed at the Hilton, where their fees paid for hir suite. When I suggested a cheaper hotel, zie assured me it was the only place in London. When I questioned the academic validity of the program, based on hir program description and planed syllabus, zie was insulted. The dean agreed with me, and the ‘successful’ trip was ended. Another faculty member managed a week-long trip to Disneyland – same department, and yes, grad credit for a trip to Disneyland. Yeah, SA seems to bring out the worst in some people.

    That said, it can be great. You just have to be really, really careful.


  6. A colleague in charge of such bubble programs recently confided in me that our school has banned several programs because faculty weren’t around – ie. were not in the city they were supposed to be in abroad – when students “went missing.” Now mind you “went missing” meant their parents didn’t get a text message response within 24 hours and the students were in an African country which especially heightened the parental responses. The students were almost always fine (ok, in one case one did get mugged but that is why ze didn’t respond – ze’s phone got stolen). No students were hurt, etc. All were safe but because the faculty were wandering off elsewhere the programs were cancelled, which is shitty since there are already comparably few programs to African countries. I wish people were more responsible (all parties).


  7. I’ve worked at the other end, on a 3 week summer school for a UK university that, if the course work was submitted (optional) and with 90% attendance, could be counted as course credit for most US universities. It was mainly marketed at US undergrads, partly because we used it as a marketing tool for our Masters programme (come back, study more, bring your international fees), but we got a variety of students from all over the world, including adult ‘hobbyists’ who just wanted to know more about the subject.

    It was an intense 9am-5pm, Mon-Fri, for three weeks, of lectures/discussions, but also included a few excursions to sites of interest, as well as a few evening social events. However, these were all tied in well to the curriculum and, for example, at one of the living history sites, we got the curators to give them a lecture from a museumology perspective and then we discussed the merits/ problems/ curatorial decisions of the site. One of our social events was lessons in the local dance style.

    As a UK university, all students had to be 18 and so were adults and, of course, able to drink etc. And, our attitude, as it is with all our students, is what they did outside of class time was up to them. We weren’t babysitters – we offered a course that they could attend if they wanted. However, as many of the students were US undergrads, we got constant phonecalls and emails from parents worried because their babies hadn’t been in contact for 24 hours, or hadn’t replied instantly to emails. So, there was this really weird dynamic, where on the one hand, we eschewed all responsibility for these adults (beyond their educational experience in our care), and the other where we found ourselves forced into this parenting role. So, we had to ‘discipline’ one of the students who had to be carried home from the pub by the campus security (who had been retreived from the halls of residence by a fellow student), after he started a fight with the bouncers. Despite the fact this all happened out of hours and off-campus – we did it mainly to appease campus security for having to get involved in something that was nothing to do with them.

    So, I guess I have an issue with students paying to study abroad but not getting an education, but I don’t really care if the faculty are there 24/7 as some sort of parents. The students are adults, especially in most countries outside of the US.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. If all goes well, I am about to teach in one of those bubble programs. Because the university needs entrepreneurial initiatives, and because we haven’t had raises since 2008 and may never at this point, so I need extra salary somehow.

    And yes, it is in a country I have a vested interest in getting to, although I do not need the program to get there.

    I and my group are giving serious classes. Some of what we are doing, would not have been part of class when I was an undergraduate, but would have been recommended extracurricular excursions. Since our students don’t know how to take these themselves, we are including the first few as part of class, to teach them how to do them.

    But when we went for faculty orientation, it was clear what they do during our sister programs. There were a lot of admonishments, you *must* have real contact hours, you *must* not get drunk with students, etc., and I realized what goes on.

    I have also heard of study abroad programs that take place at all inclusive resorts, have pub crawls as class time, etc.


  9. At my uni, study abroad is pretty well structured, and its not a moenymaker for the university. I suspect the opportunities for abuse come in the summer session “courses”, two or three week gigs. I’m sure that many faculty stay after their course to do research, Summer session is a “profit center”, and it’s not carefully policed…


  10. P.S. I don’t think that staying in country after the course is abuse – and taking a group of us undergrads to any foreign country is hard work. But I’m sure there are times when someone tries the pub crawl for credit thing.


  11. This letter bothered me enough to respond because I fear a few bad apples might tarnish an important educational experience for many students, and I am uncomfortable with the wholly negative connotation of the term “bubble” course.
    I went on such a five-month course as an undergrad. I had experience in the relevant language (though some of my classmates admittedly had none) and we were required to study the language during the program. I am now a historian specializing in that region, and would certainly in retrospect wished for a more intensive university exchange experience. However, the truth of the matter at the time was: 1) I could not have afforded it (see comment above about financial aid), 2) my language skills would not have been sufficient for regular university coursework, and 3) I was a naive, small town kid at a small rural lib arts college close to home, so the prospect of being in a major foreign city with no existing safety net or social network would have intimidated me from applying and NEVER would have gained the permission of my parents. (I also know these circumstances to be true for many of my own students now at an entirely different institution.)
    As it was, my professor was fully engaged, we took five college approved courses that were often more rigorous than those at home (given their inclusion of time-consuming field trips and research assignments), and I got over my provincialism with a renewed interest in the language, culture, and history that has come to inspire and inform my career. I might also add that learning everyday life and travel skills can be as important thereafter as the course. (Nothing builds confidence like making the wrong international train transfer and living to tell of it).
    Certainly what D&A describes is abhorrent, and I hope that ze will find an appropriate channel for reporting the bad behavior of hir colleague. However, I also hope that the blame will be squarely placed upon those guilty of misappropriating their institutions’ and students’ trust and not an entire model of study abroad education that services a broad segment of our student populations, who might otherwise not study abroad at all. Also, do we really want to start holding our colleagues to the impossible (and contradictory) responsibility of policing student 24/7, yet also getting them out of their “bubble”?


  12. We have a lot of US universities doing programs here. Probably because everything is in English and Ghana is the safest country in Africa. This semester I do not have any US students. But, the last three I always had a couple of foreign students in my classes. My understanding is that these programs are huge money makers for the University of Ghana. But, while the foreign students have done well on my tests I have gotten the feeling that their primary reason for coming to Legon was not academic. Instead they are one looking to have a semester long vacation abroad, albeit a working vacation, and two pad their resume with experience in Africa. I guess the second item might have something to do with diversity requirements for jobs in the US now, but I am not sure. At any rate the history department does not currently have any faculty visiting as part of a bubble program. But, I know we have had them in the past. Generally they have a pretty easy gig. They teach one class in the department and chaperone the obruni students, but still draw their US salaries. So they do less work and get a lot more money than the rest of us.


  13. I taught a summer bio program in an appealing tropical country once, concurrently with a group from another university. The other prof construed it as a vacation for everybody and spent most of his time floating in the bay on one of those air mattress thingies with a cupholder. The students were delighted.

    Mine, not so much as I struggled mightily to get them to do some actual biology. (“Look! It’s fun! See the toucan in the rainforest!”) Short of physically assaulting them, I couldn’t get most of them to stop floating around on their own air mattresses. They got Cs or worse, and I was lucky not to get actual official complaints. I don’t know for sure, but I’d be willing to bet the other prof got glowing reviews.

    I think what I’m trying to say is that, yes, that’s corruption, but there’s really no point attacking it when even the “victims” prefer it that way.


  14. I have no experience teaching in any form of overseas program, so I don’t have any specific experiences to share. However, I did want to respond to the letter-writer’s outrage over a colleague who “owns property in the city where her program is run, but still claims a huge per diem and lodging expenses.”
    I have absolutely no problem with this, and I can’t imagine why anyone else would, either. There is no reason why this faculty member should not be able to accept a per diem to cover living costs, including food, transportation, and not least, some money towards the mortgage, taxes, and upkeep on that property.


  15. I would rather eat nails than take a group of students abroad, and have great admiration for those colleagues who do. “Disgusted” had an experience tat is all too familiar to me, however, from a short period in my life when I was working for a PR agency trying to rescue the reputation of a famous high school exchange program that had developed an uneven record of tracking the home stay immersion experience: one student broke an ankle and was taken to a vet, another was forced to sleep in a shed in the back yard (this was in France, mind you, not Jo’burg, where that might make sense)….the stories of people taking in kids just for the $$, in the US and abroad, were just grisly.

    So I believe. I do. *And* I also know a great many students who think a semester abroad is about taking a “break” from college, or waxing romantic over helping folks in Latin America/Africa. Very few of the Zenith-approved programs were particularly rigorous, although I think the Zenith directors (just because they were familiar to me), when they were in charge, kept a tight ship.


  16. I guess I’m having a difficult time envisioning how these bubble programs in the humanities could have serious academic validity. To me, they are about exposing students to culture and encouraging them to speak a foreign language outside of the classroom. As a French historian, I can’t imagine what sort of curriculum I would devise beyond visiting a bunch of historically significant places and discussing why there were significant. How can that be rigorous? Obviously absentee profs are a problem, but I think the real problem lies in colleges giving students significant amounts of course credit for essentially being tourists. And I should disclose that I did one of these as an undergrad, with an incredible staff of 4 profs across disciplines leading our group. It was a great experience. It was exhausting they kept us so busy seeing stuff. But academically rigorous? Not a chance.


  17. We used to have a university-maintained money pit campus in the south of France. I was never so happy as the day we killed it dead because it was a swank vacation for many who wanted to spend some time abroad, students and faculty, both! There were a few people who took it seriously, but far from a majority, as I saw.


  18. This is crazy. I’ve led three study abroad trips – to Cuba, Guyana, and the DR – and they were all *in addition* to my regular teaching and service load. Furthermore, none of them were *exactly* in my wheelhouse. Close, but not exactly. I had to push myself to teach them. They were an enormous amount of work, but they were totally worth it because the experience – closely working with students on what was essentially experiential humanities learning – was utterly amazing.

    I don’t know anyone involved who doesn’t take these very, very seriously from start to finish. That includes students and faculty. Maybe because they were add-ons for everyone involved. (That would seem to be the root of the problem here; it isn’t good practice, in the end, to count these classes towards your teaching load).

    And, for the record, these were 6 credit courses. And they were among the most rigorous, challenging, and exhausting courses for everyone involved.


  19. Maybe that’s due to the different kind of student who will sign up for study abroad in Cuba or other troubled Caribbean/South American destinations, versus the kind of student who will sign up for study abroad courses in Western Europe? Bubble programs would appear to vary a great deal depending on their region, the faculty leading the courses, and modal student expectations.

    Thanks for all of your views & reports of personal experience. I kind of think that quixote got it right when she said “yes, that’s corruption, but there’s really no point attacking it when even the “victims” prefer it that way.”

    I agree with TR who wrote, “I would rather eat nails than take a group of students abroad, and have great admiration for those colleagues who do,” especially those like Lance who have done this in addition to their normal workload, and who have stretched and grown as intellectuals as a result. I know I’m not cut out for this kind of thing. I kept thinking when reading D/A’s original letter and some of your responses (NOT Lance’s) as well, “Man, who wants to work that hard while trying to take a vacation?” I sure don’t. There is something useful and good about keeping work at work, and vacationing on vacation, esp. if you’re dragging around a partner or a family. Geez!


  20. My own personal experience studying abroad was overwhelmingly positive – one trip was a short term kind of bubble-light program, but there weren’t other options given the location in question. It was also a required part of a year-long academic course of study, that also required language study. All-in-all I thought it was a good experience, and ended up TA-ing for the program later down the road – mostly because the language skills of the students in the program went anywhere from 101 to native speaker. I did a semester abroad in a different location that was also kind of bubble-light – it was a program through my home university, we had to take 1 class with “the program” but all our other courses were through the regular university system. Uni faculty would occasionally go and do a month-intensive course, but to my knowledge there was no abuse in those programs. I was not a fan of the programs that were pushed for undergraduates in my graduate program, but that was more about the immersion experience that was offered and the politics of teaching assignments than any concern over abuse of students in the program.

    I do recall reading about Jorge Gilbert earlier this summer, though. As someone who is hoping to plan a short-term study trip in the next few years (my geographical specialty is underrepresented in the winter quarter study abroad courses that are offered by uni faculty), I was horrified by this man’s abuse.


  21. I am with ej on this although my official line is more like Lance’s, or A’s.

    I studied abroad as an undergraduate but it meant, you go and register in the foreign university, take their classes, look on the bulletin boards and find yourself an apartment by looking at ads for roommates, as you would at home. Tourist activities were not part of class.

    In the program I teach in this summer, if it makes, I will be, essentially, producing students who will then be competent to do the kind of study abroad program I did. When I did that study abroad, I had traveled before. And we are going to do interesting fieldwork, not guided tour type stuff. Supposedly.

    Still, I am essentially with ej on this. Note: the error would be to think it is a vacation. I know people do but there is no way it can be. It’s just a variation on teaching in one of the summer session intensives here.


  22. P.P.S. “Maybe that’s due to the different kind of student who will sign up for study abroad in Cuba or other troubled Caribbean/South American destinations, versus the kind of student who will sign up for study abroad courses in Western Europe?”

    This is possible, even probable. Still.


  23. “As a French historian, I can’t imagine what sort of curriculum I would devise beyond visiting a bunch of historically significant places and discussing why there were significant. How can that be rigorous?”

    Well, take them to archives and show them how to work on a project. That is truly using the site.

    I have a literature class where they have required reading ahead of program time, then during study abroad they will go to actual literary readings by these authors, do research on them in major libraries in destination city, try to get interviews, things like that.

    I have a developmental reading / introduction to the study of cultural objects class where they will have to follow a news story or cultural issue or formation in the papers and other media, do research on it, gather materials and choose theoretical approaches to its study.

    If you go to a big city and universities there are on term time, you can go to lectures and events; you can also get guest speakers from there for your classes, people you could not afford to fly to the US but that you can afford an honorarium for a talk there. (Then, a bonus is that your students have actual contacts in those foreign universities to reactivate later.)

    If I were a linguist I would have them do fieldwork in regional speech and dialectology. They could go around meeting people, interviewing, recording, asking about slang, finding preservations of grammatical constructions no longer in use generally, etc.

    There is tons and tons you can do beyond tourism.

    But, I am still not for it, really.


  24. I’m an American graduate student at a British university that commonly plays host to bubble programs for American undergrads. People here tend to find the programs peculiar–the American students parachute in for one short term, or one summer session, and leave again, without seemingly having learned anything about the university or local culture, or met any non-Americans. (There’s a common stereotype here, I think, that Americans are fine individually but really annoying when they hang out in large groups of other Americans, which they are seen to do frequently.) But administrators here seem to put up with these programs in large part because they’re very lucrative money-makers for our cash-strapped institution.

    One of the reasons I am a grad student here at all is that I had the good fortune to do a proper exchange at this university when I was an undergrad. I swapped places with a British student, landed in his academic and social environment with not an American in sight, and over the course of six months started really to understand the differences between British and American culture (not to mention benefiting from the research strengths here, somewhat different from those at my home department). The program is logistically complicated, open to very few students from the British university and from my elite American undergrad doing certain subjects, and because no one makes any money off it there’s resistance to expanding it. Yet it’s not difficult to see that it would be a better educational and cultural experience for everyone concerned if it could be expanded.


  25. I think y’all make a very fair point: certain programs attract certain kinds of students. For all the wrong reasons, a trip to Florence or Dublin just draws a wider range – including the best and the worst.

    But I also don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that only the most diligent and serious students sought out the chance to go to the DR, or Cuba, or Guyana. Going on one of the these trips is like being a parent. And there were plenty of students who got too drunk, or fell in love, or who went AWOL. This is some high intensity &^%$. I’ve mopped vomit on other continents. You just have to be prepared to, you know, offer guidance 24/7 on more than Junot Diaz or David Dabydeen. And that is, surely, not for everyone. And if you aren’t willing to do that sort of work, then it quickly becomes a pub crawl masquerading as a classroom on the road.

    And then there are days where you just go somewhere – like Dajabon, on the border between Haiti and the DR – and everything clicks for the students (and faculty). All the abstractions snap into real life focus. And they can’t look at the world the same way. They stop drinking. They read more carefully. They think.

    So in the end, I think what matters most is the issue raised in the original letter, and that was refocused so excellently by H-Ann above: this is about having the right institutional oversight and right-minded faculty in place. Before I could even admit a single student, I had to write about a dozen drafts of a 30 page, day by day account of what we were going to do “in country.” Exhausting! And worth it. The U had to put that process in place. And I had to be willing to submit myself to it.

    Finally, this was a zero sum game for me financially. “Salary” was always budgeted into program costs. So to keep the program cheap, I covered my expenses and took nothing else. That was sort of standard practice. And a good one.


  26. So much depends on the program. All my prejudices are in favor of programs in which Americans study with the natives and against American-run programs. Yet . . .

    My daughter did a semester in a European city, in a program sponsored by several universities, including mine. She was already fluent in the language and knew the city. The instruction, all in normal university courses and in the local language, was of pretty mixed quality, and assignments and book provision were far below American standards. On balance, I think, an OK experience, with one very good course, but not better.

    My son, by contrast, did a parachute program run by his elite school for one term, in a South African city. All instruction was in English, most of it by professors from his university. The courses were rigorous and demanding, the center where he and others lived was provided with everything they needed, the professors were around for informal talk and travel as well as for instruction. My son and his friends had a wonderful time and saw a lot, but they also learned a great deal.

    Sigh . . .


  27. Interesting discussion – I’ve recently decided to no longer participate in my own department’s summer program for very similar reasons. I suppose the moral of the story is “buyer beware” – there are no doubt good bubble programs led by thoughtful, intentional faculty and there are no doubt horrible immersion programs. I’d like to see our study abroad office keep a folder of comments from former participants in all the different programs, with honest feedback to help others decide. Perhaps students could get a $50 reduction on fees if they agreed to do an anonymous, in-depth exit interview.

    I do think the per diem thing can be terribly exploited. We don’t get per diems to live and work in our primary homes, or help with “Food, transportation, taxes, mortgage” etc. That’s called our salary. Sorry, but I don’t see why students should subsidize some peoples’ second homes (yeah, there’s some class resentment here – I’m speaking as someone who can’t afford a first home after 12 years on the job.) Here’s a not-entirely-hypothetical situation: a colleague is lucky/rich enough to have a second home abroad, gets hir salary to be there when zie is leading the study abroad, as well as extra housing expenses (based on the dodgy premise that zie is renting from hirself), yet still requests additional per diem, basically on the students’ backs. For what? Eating? Zie has a kitchen – zie is not forced to eat out every day. Transport? In that case, I want a per diem to cover my bus pass at home. Unfortunately, our uni. has eliminated per diems where they are actually justified (conference travel, where you are incurring genuine extra expenses, have no choice but to eat out, etc.), but is turning a blind eye to this kind of thing.


  28. @So Lance, you really did it for free, covered expenses and taught for free? Did you at least take your time off your taxes? Were you doing it for the sake of your department’s major or something like that?


  29. @Z I honestly don’t know what you mean when you ask if I took my time off my taxes. I think I need a better accountant.

    Most of the people I know do it because they are trying to be good citizens and recruit or draw students into a major. Some do it because they believe that these classes are, in many ways, superior to sitting in a desk. (Why just read about race relations in Guyana when you can meet the President of Guyana and ask her about the same subject?) And some do it because there is enormous surplus value in having this sort of experience on your CV. I guess, for me, it was all three.


  30. @Taxes, I would look into it as it’s a huge donation so yes, ask an accountant, seriously.

    You are the first person I’ve talked to who has taught for free beyond directing an independent resarch project and it also sounds as though they took a huge amount of your time ahead.

    I am interested because I have something of an opposite view: I think our place underpays us. This makes me less enthusiastic; I could teach a course in 4.5 weeks with 10 contact hours per week at home for the same cash as being on call 24/7 for the same amount of time abroad. If I made more for the study abroad gig, I would work harder to make it SUPER good. We get lodging, not very good, and the per diem is small, $20, for food and bus tickets and so on.


  31. Ugh. I had a colleague who does exactly this. At least, however, he does it in London, where language is more or less not an issue.

    One year, however, he used a grant so he could spend a summer in France with his paramour, a lady of the junior faculty persuasion who supposedly was doing research on the book that was help her achieve tenure. Alas, her husband found out, called Distinguished Associate Professor’s wife, a marriage exploded spectacularly, and T/T Assistant Prof slunk away into the darkness. She ended up managing a bookstore in Seattle.

    Not quite on topic…but gives you a flavor of the sort of guys who run these scams. Distinguished Associate Professor, BTW, is now a full bull and head of a department. Students love him: 4.9 at RateMyProfessors.


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