Each year, a large portion of the Marist College student body studies abroad in various countries across the world, ranging from Italy to South Africa to Australia. According to Marist Public Affairs, “the college ranks 13th in undergraduate participation in studying abroad among Master’s degree-granting institutions, 18th in terms of total students studying abroad, 6th for participation in semester programs, and 3rd for the number of students participating in long-term study abroad programs.”
According to President Dennis Murray, the May 2015 graduating class had nearly 75% of their students study abroad somewhere during their time at Marist. The Marist program in Florence, Italy, at the Lorenzo de’Medici Institute is by far the most popular one among students. As a result, Marist International Programs (MIP) has the most expertise about the Florence program. This can come at a price, though.
Molly Cunningham ’16 studied abroad in London, England, last year. She found the weekly abroad meetings for her program to be unnecessary. “The woman who spoke to us mainly went on to talk about Florence specifically and didn’t give much insight about other places,” she said. “I found that talking to other students who studied abroad were more helpful to me than she was and the overall services that Marist provided.”
Another student, a junior who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of jeopardizing her abroad application, who is planning on going to London for the Spring 2016 semester, feels that it’s unfair that Florence students can enter a batch application for their student visas while the students in other programs are responsible for contacting their respective consulates on their own.
The reason behind the batch process, though, is not a matter of nepotism towards Florence students. Carol Toufali, the Senior Coordinator of MIP, explained that it is because the Italian Consulate does not want students applying for their visas individually so the batch process is easier for them. “There is a pro and con to everything,” she said. Toufali oversees all of the abroad programs, which is a huge responsibility. When I met with her to discuss the preparation process for studying abroad, it was clear that she had been very busy as her desk was full of students’ passports, visa applications, and other important paperwork. “I know the leap of faith that parents and students take when it comes to studying in a different country so I try to prepare them as best as possible,” she added. “My biggest concern when I send students off every semester is someone not coming back. That’s why I try to prepare them so much.”
Elena Eberwein ’16 spent her entire freshman year in Italy as part of the Freshman Florence Exchange (FFE) Program and just spent last semester in Malta. She defends MIP’s hands-on approach with Florence students. “I think because Florence is the biggest program they do a lot to prepare everyone,” she said. “However, you really can only get the best advice and prep help from people who have done it I think. You can’t prepare for things that are situational-specific.”
Annie Callaghan ’18 is planning on studying abroad in Florence next semester and feels that MIP is helpful, especially with their weekly meetings. “Since so many students choose to study in Florence, there is not too much complication as long as you are organized and aware of the requirements,” she said. “However, I know of students who are studying with other programs do not have as much guidance, making it a more complicated and stressful process.”
In order for it to become necessary for MIP to become more involved in other programs, though, it would mean more students choosing somewhere other than Florence to study. Why do so many students choose Florence? Toufali felt that it is a good question but one she could not find an answer to. “There are so many other great programs out there,” she said. One of her primary concerns are students that choose programs based on their entire friend group going and thus, do not fully immerse themselves in the culture. “Going abroad should not be about whom you live with,” she emphasized. “You should be willing to meet new people and explore what’s out there.”
So how can Marist improve this process for students studying somewhere other than Florence? One student suggested that there should be a specific person from Marist appointed to each program so that the students in these programs feel as prepared as everyone else. Eberwein also suggested more one-on-one meetings but worries that it’s not a viable option since there are so many students that go abroad each semester. The best advice that most students who have traveled abroad have: Do your own research and you won’t have to worry about whether or not MIP is helpful for you.