Across the pond

 

A newly approved undergraduate history certificate designed around foreign study experiences may see more students leave the comforts of home for a semester in another country.

Last week, the Academic Program Committee, the body that oversees the development of new academic programs across the university, approved the new undergraduate certificate in comparative international studies.

Students seeking the certificate will take two courses at Youngstown State University and then take similar courses at an overseas university. Brian Bonhomme, an assistant professor of history who drew up the initial proposal for the certificate, said the courses would have to be similar, but different enough to give students a multifaceted perspective.

“It allows [students] to take some history courses here at YSU and some other history courses somewhere outside of the U.S.,” Bonhomme said. “[Students will] draw meaningful comparisons between the way history is taught here and the way it’s taught or represented somewhere else.”

The course was designed with England’s University of Winchester in mind. YSU and Winchester have worked together for more than six years through their study abroad programs. This certificate will provide students with a more focused study option. 

The certificate is not confined to Winchester, however, and Bonhomme said that other options such as France and Saudi Arabia could be available in the future.

“[This certificate] will encourage and reward them for studying abroad and to get them to think about the ways in which things are seen from different perspectives in other places,” Bonhomme said. “It’s not something that will be specific to Winchester, but we’ve developed the course in the context of Winchester.”

Alasdair Spark, director of internationalization at the University of Winchester, said that international study can be challenging because of the differences in teaching and grading policies.

“Sometimes an assessment will come down to just one piece of work, so you do put all your eggs in one basket,” Spark said. “I can see how that could be quite scary for an American student who is used to making up their overall grade [over the course of a semester].” 

It has not been an easy process for Bonhomme to get the certificate approved. He said it has taken nearly two years from inception to approval. He cites red tape and a lengthy paper trail as the main obstacles.

“It’s taken forever to go through the bureaucracy here. I’ve been amazed at how difficult it is, how many hoops there are to go through to get something like this,” Bonhomme said. 

Adam Earnheardt, chair of the Academic Program Committee, said the process was slowed by the volume of submissions from all academic departments. 

“With the changes in the general education requirements, many programs saw it as an opportunity to change their existing curriculum,” Earnheardt said. “Because of that, we got over 80 program changes, which is really unusual. Usually, we may get 20 in a year.”

There were financial aid issues related to the program, which were rectified following further discussion with the history department. The department confirmed that the certificate was part of the history major and would therefore still qualify students for financial aid. 

“The challenge with offering a new certificate is that it has to lead to gainful employment,” Earnheardt said. “That’s only true if you’re trying to get financial aid to pay for it. The history department came back and said that this was part of the degree program.”

International study programs have been popular options at YSU, and they remain popular despite a slight dip in the number of students studying abroad this semester. There are five students abroad this semester, down from 15 last year. 

Spark is an advocate of international study and the character-building opportunity the experience offers.

“I think the whole experience should be challenging because if it wasn’t challenging, it wouldn’t be worth doing,” Spark said. “And often, that challenge begins with getting a visa and negotiating airports.”

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