High rate of Marist students go abroad but at what cost?

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.

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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.”

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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.

One thought on “High rate of Marist students go abroad but at what cost?

  1. I would tend to agree there is more emphasis on studying abroad in Italy, mainly Florence due to the Freshman Florence Experience program. However, there should be reasonable coverage on all other locations and contact information with previous students who studied abroad in another host country. Consider obtaining a sponsor or someone currently participating in MIP who you may correspond with by email, mail, Skype or Zoom. My daughter, Tiffany, was part of FFE in Fall 2013- Spring 2014, then decided through MIP to make it a 3rd consecutive semester in Florence, Italy at LdM in Fall 2014. Tiffany did struggle through moments of homesickness and the stress of certain college courses. She had never been OUTCONUS “outside continental U.S.” before. During her 3rd semester, Tiffany was very familiar with the Italian environment but this time she was on her own since all her FFE companions and other study abroad students had returned to the Marist campus or their corresponding college. She loved being in Florence but did feel rather lonely without her former acquaintances and friends. Tiffany graduated with the Marist Class of 2018 since she had taken 1 year leave of absence Spring and Fall of 2016. So my advise is not to give up on studying abroad. It gives you a whole new perspective on life, to grow independently. socialize in ways you never thought you could, don’t isolate yourself be proactive, you’ll be much happier than fronding upon things you’ve could of done. Many professors, and Marist staff members will assist you with blending in and to feel comfortable in your new surroundings. Use common sense in all you do, be safe, use the buddy system, the idea is to study and get your assignments out of the way first then go have fun. There are numerous activities, festivities, group events, and college trips. Be yourself, enjoy life, get your college degree cause life is just starting and you have the opportunity to do amazing things. – I realize here in 2020 with the COVID-19 world pandemic, things will be different and restricted. Have faith and believe there will be a chance to study abroad in 2021. If you happen to finish college before you have the opportunity to study abroad, then when possible take a couple weeks vacation to that destination. You won’t be disappointed or regret it. We live to do the impossible. Why dream about it when you might as well do it. Learn how to scuba dive, pilot a plane, become a humanitarian and build homes, be a guest speaker, campaign for something, get involved. Best time to start is when you are young, the future awaits you. College is just stage 1 of your adult life.

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