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Tufts-in-Anderson

Opinion | November 20, 2011

Ariel Lefland

Starting my college search, I was  certain about only two requirements for my college-to-be: an established engineering program and an administration that supported engineering students in studying abroad. Studying abroad while earning a B.S. in engineering is difficult, and I knew the field of potential universities would be limited; so that summer when I listened to admissions officer Daniel Grayson pitch Tufts’ School of Engineering, my eyes lit up.  He assured us that if one wanted to be an engineer and study abroad, Tufts was the place to do it. He proceeded to highlight Tufts’ mission statement of providing an invaluable education that fostered a “global perspective,” encouraging liberal arts, science, and engineering students alike to explore the world. I applied Early Decision I to Tufts under those pretenses. Two years later, however, rounding out the fall of my junior year, I cannot in good conscience advise any prospective engineering student to select Tufts if they, too, wish to study abroad.

The bureaucracy-forged wall I would have to climb presented itself in November of my freshman year during my meeting with the Sheila Bayne, Director of Programs Abroad.  Initially, my intention was to spend a semester in South America, where I could finally polish my Spanish. As engineering precluded me from double majoring,  I  settled on a semester of immersion instead. I came to her office to discuss the idea and determine the necessary logistical measures to be taken. My idea was met with a simple retort advising that I not proceed. It would be “administratively burdensome”, she suggested, for an engineer to study in a non-English speaking country. She then advised me to look at Tufts’ program in Hong Kong.

Every attempt I made to study abroad was thwarted with remarkable consistency, ultimately culminating in the rejection of my final proposal to study abroad at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in the fall  of 2011.  I had already squared away all the details of studying abroad with the Dean of Engineering, including the courses I would take in order to successfully graduate in four years. Yet my “Petition to Study Abroad for Students in the School of Engineering” was denied because they would not be awarding me credit for the one course I was required to take as an engineer.  Confused by the disparity between the Engineering Department and the Office of Study Abroad’s decisions, I decided to appeal the case to foreign study advisor Brian Libby, laying out what I believed could be accomplished.  He responded five weeks later, citing his desire to avoid inconsistencies in the way Tufts converts credits from foreign Universities. He asked for a couple additional days to make his final decision. After 11 days and innumerable attempts to reach Brian over the phone, I was informed via email that because the one required class fell one UCT credit (just under 0.06 Tufts credits) short, the course would be denied any credit “to ensure consistency and fairness in the way Tufts converts credits.”

Seven exasperating months after devising my study abroad program, gaining the approval of my department, and surmounting the weeks-long communication issues with administrators, I was denied the opportunity to study abroad.  It left me at the start of the reading period with no internship for the summer (a summer I had designated for the start of my program), nowhere to live in the fall, and, no one to sublet from me in the spring—if I was  still determined to study abroad then. It left me with no faith in Tufts’ desire to send engineering students abroad, except in pre-packaged programs of their own design. Yes, it is entirely possible for a mechanical engineer to go to England, China, or France, as is stated on the  department’s website. However, if those three countries don’t do it for you, don’t expect any real guidance for alternatives, and anticipate that your efforts will be thwarted at every step of the way, either willfully or through benign intransigence every step of the way.

Fortunately, this story ends well. With the help of some AP credits and a reworked senior year schedule, I have officially been approved to study abroad in Arusha, Tanzania for the Spring 2012. Despite the happy ending, I’m still adamant in my belief that no student should have to endure this process.

I am not asking for Tufts to reconsider any decisions made.  It is far too late for those wounds to be doctored. I’m asking Tufts to consider this question: is this how study abroad is supposed to work?  I understand the formalities that prevented me from studying abroad, but is this minutia in the ethos of Tufts study abroad? Or is it in the ethos of Tufts’ mission to foster a global perspective and cultivate active citizenship in its student body?