Abandoning abroad

Upon the immediate resignation of the director of global education, students wonder what is next for their study abroad experiences.

0
1712
Photo by Ayden Levine '23

The opportunity to study abroad is often discussed as a key Muhlenberg experience by tour guides. In fact, Bryan Guzman ‘26 says that’s one of the main reasons he came to Muhlenberg. But now that he’s here and planning to travel, he says working with the study abroad office has been disappointing.

The Office of Global Education, or the study abroad office as it’s more commonly referenced, experienced a faculty reset post-COVID when Donna Kish-Goodling, Ph.D., retired as director of the Office in 2022, and Monija Amani, Ed.D, took her place. Sophie Goodfellow ‘17 also joined the Office of Global Education in 2022, as global education program specialist.

However, after a year and a half, Amani abruptly resigned on Oct. 4. Goodfellow also announced that she is resigning from her position, effective Oct. 18 and will be working as assistant director of international affairs at Haverford College, PA. With the sudden resignation of the majority of the Global Education staff, and a lack of an explanation from the College, students are anxious about what this means for their upcoming semesters abroad, their abroad experiences and the study abroad program itself. 

Hannah Watanabe ‘25, who is studying abroad this upcoming spring, shared that this situation is “definitely making me way more stressed out. I haven’t been fully confirmed for my study abroad next semester and I’m worried that if I’m missing any documents, I won’t be able to submit them because of everything that’s going on in our Global Education Office.”

Leading up to Amani’s resignation, information sessions pertaining to study abroad programs such as those in Africa, the British Isles and Oceania were canceled, along with individual meetings scheduled with Amani for spring 2024 study abroad students. 

Provost Laura Furge, Ph.D., issued an official statement on Oct. 5 informing the student body that Kish-Goodling would return to campus from retirement to serve as interim dean of global education beginning on Monday, Oct. 9. Furge’s email did not acknowledge Amani’s nor Goodfellow’s resignation. Furge added that Ranajoy Ray-Chaudhuri, Ph.D., and Trevor Knox, Ph.D., both former faculty fellows in Global Education and professors in the accounting and economics department, will return to the Office of Global Education to assist students studying abroad in the spring.

While this is a sudden and abrupt change, Furge emphasized that “study abroad is still fully on. We have about 104 students who are planning to go in the spring and we do hope they will all still go… having gone to study abroad myself, I hope that no one misses that opportunity.”

And while many agree that studying abroad is a wonderful opportunity, some Muhlenberg students have had a difficult time working with the Office of Global Education. 

Gnama Hartney ‘24 studied abroad last spring in France. “I found that while applying to my host institution and going through the visa process, the Office of Global Ed[ucation] was not helpful in any means. They were late sending in needed documents for me to be accepted to the program. They gave very little information on how to apply for the visa and what documentation I needed. I basically had to figure it out myself and relied on the host institution to answer questions I had,” said Hartney.

Hartney continued adding, “While abroad, the office of Global Ed[ucation] reached out maybe two to three times. Mainly with reminder[s] of things that needed to be completed, but not so much checking in [on] me and seeing how they could support me.” 

Molly Levine ‘24, who studied in France in the spring of 2023, added, “I never felt that the Office of Global Ed[ucation] was a place where you could go for questions or advice.”

One student, who asked to remain anonymous because they are still very anxious about their experience with the office and are currently abroad, said that they were sent another student’s personal information, were sent the wrong documentation and generally found the process working with the office to be confusing and stressful.

Maya Brooks ‘24, who was abroad last spring in France, shared, “I was somehow behind in the process without the Global Ed[ucation] office letting me know even when I repeatedly asked them if I needed to do anything else and was told no. The process was so convoluted and confusing and I didn’t know how to do anything. I went to the Global Ed[ucation] office for help and they seemed as clueless as I was. I was completely hopeless and only through intense research, trial and error, talking to the abroad program and having a mental breakdown did I finally figure out just how to request a visa appointment. All in all, it was a completely miserable stressful process and I didn’t feel any help from the department.”

“I was somehow behind in the process without the Global Ed[ucation] office letting me know even when I repeatedly asked them if I needed to do anything else and was told no. The process was so convoluted and confusing and I didn’t know how to do anything. I went to the Global Ed[ucation] office for help and they seemed as clueless as I was.”

Maya Brooks ’24

Muhlenberg offers full-term abroad programs but also provides Muhlenberg Integrated Learning Experiences (MILAs), which are short-term study abroad opportunities. According to Senior Lecturer of Religion Studies Sharon Albert, Ph.D., who has led many MILAs over the years, the study abroad program is still recovering from the pandemic. “Travel has become more complicated post-COVID, and we’ve lost some institutional memory,” she said. 

Carina Filemyr ‘23 participated in the MILAs “Writing About Place” in Italy and “This Land is Your Land” in the Potomac. “During my MILA to Italy, I [had] to go to the local hospital and felt really confused by Global Ed[ucation]’s assistance with that. I have an outstanding bill, which I had assumed would be covered by the insurance I paid for prior to the MILA… I was totally unaware that on the Italy MILA I would [also] be responsible for all of my dinners and some meals throughout. I wasn’t expecting to spend so much extra money. I struggled because I had to use a credit card, and Discover isn’t usually international. I would’ve been prepared if I was made aware!”

According to Muhelnberg’s website, the College “strives to make study abroad opportunities affordable.” 

Students are charged Muhlenberg tuition and receive their same financial aid package. However, students are often shocked by how much additional fees can add up such as Visa application fees, medical fees, flights, and food and groceries as well. 

“[The Office of Global Education] isn’t very helpful in preparing you for what it’s actually going to be like there,” explained Des Suarez ‘23, who was abroad in the spring of ‘22 in Italy. “I was not financially prepared at all to go to Italy and I am definitely still in debt because my mom was trying to support me since I was unprepared. So that was something very difficult that they don’t really talk about. They say you should have $4,000 before you go but that was not possible for me no matter how much I worked.”

The College offers grants for MILAs but restricts it to one trip only, and the Experiential Learning Grant strictly states that study abroad expenses are not eligible for this grant. 

In addition to help with logistics, the study abroad office is also supposed to support Muhlenberg’s learning goals. For Giovanni Merrifeild ‘24, who went to South Africa in the fall of 2022 for his MILA “Culture, Conflict, & Development,” the office was not receptive to his concerns about the program’s inclusiveness. “As a Black student who went to a predominantly Black country, there were many students [on the MILA] who had said and acted in a racially biased way that I was very upset with. Not only that, but some people on the trip thought it was my responsibility to educate those who were ignorant on the experience of Black South Africans. Mind you, I am not South African,” explained Merrifield. “I had tried to express how inappropriate this was to Dr. Amani, and she had said: ‘Gio, you should be honored that students want to hear from you and learn from you. Why wouldn’t you want to educate them?’ To this response I had blatantly told her it was not my job to do so, and that that was not okay by any means. She simply could not understand where I was coming from…she proceeded to tell me that what I was saying was not valid nor correct. She raised her voice to me to the point where I almost ended the zoom call.”

In response to this, Amani said, “[Merrifield’s] account of our zoom meeting is completely different from what I recall… I too come from a diverse background and completely understand issues surrounding race, identity, equity, and belonging. And I’ve been subjected to many discriminatory situations in the past several months; and I have been trying to make sense of them myself. So, if anything, I can fully understand [Merrifeild’s] experiences.” 

Nonetheless, other students had similar experiences to Merrifield. 

“In the one meeting I had with Dr. Amani, I didn’t really feel like she had much patience for me as an individual… I just didn’t feel like I could ask her questions.” said Naava Wison ‘25, who is currently abroad in London.

“To be completely honest, Dr. Amani was the most difficult to work with. Most of the challenges I had with working with her involved the credit transfer process and her not being organized on the other end of things,” said Hartney.

Jolie Lanning ‘25, who is currently abroad in London, shared, “Trying to submit my application was pretty frustrating, as I kept getting emails from Dr. Amani saying I didn’t turn something in but I did. Any response I got from her didn’t acknowledge my concerns and questions. I think we went back and forth like this for a bit. It was basically like she wasn’t reading any of my messages and I was receiving an automated email response.” 

In reaction to Amani’s resignation, while many students were surprised, they were not exactly disappointed. 

Upon hearing the news, Lanning said, “I’m really not surprised. Half the time I felt like she didn’t really know what she was talking about [and] was kind [of] all over the place.”

Rachelle Montilus ‘24, who was in Ireland last spring, said “I guess [I’m] not really surprised. But, I’m still in shock. Immediate resignation is difficult, especially when there are students that are counting on you to do some work. And so, it’s like you want to know that the program director isn’t just going to leave you hanging but I guess it is what it is.” 

“People leave higher education for a number of reasons. They leave for professional development and finding better opportunities and higher pay. It just happened that the OGE staff got better opportunities and decided to move on. That’s no one’s fault,” said Amani. 

Levi Roush ‘24, who was abroad last spring in London, said simply, “I think it’s for the best.” 

As for Goodfellow, many were sad to see her go. 

“I’m really shocked to hear this. Sophie was one of the few people in the Office of Global Ed[ucation] who would actually answer questions I had. [I] appreciate all she did and will miss her,” said Hartney.

Sidney Kaeb ‘24 said, “Sophie was very welcoming and helpful both when I had work-study with the Office of Global Education and while I was figuring out my study abroad plan. She introduced me to the program that I ended up going to and was even on the phone with me while I was at the Spanish Consulate in New York helping me problem-solve after one of my forms was rejected.”

Albert shared, “I am very excited for Sophie. She has made amazing contributions to our Global Education program and has provided strong and steady continuity through some difficult transitions. She is moving on to a position with higher-level responsibilities. She is extremely competent and always professional. I wish her the best and hope we will have opportunities to work together in the future.”

As for the future of the study abroad office, Furge stated “I hope that we have a new program specialist hired in a few weeks and that we have a new dean or executive director, for sure by summer [2024].”

Many students shared what they hoped for in regards to the future of the study abroad office.

“I would like to see things be much more organized and transparent. I also hope that there can be more conversations about real concerns that can face students abroad like theft, sexual harassment, racism or homophobia and financial management,” said Levine ‘24. 

“I think they need more people on board. Specifically to serve as advisors…They need to touch base with individual groups more often, as opposed to having general meetings for all programs. Each program is so different, with different deadlines and necessary steps to prepare,” said Roush.

Merrifield shared, “I would like to see the Global Education program gain a director that is culturally sensitive and aware, along with someone who actually cares about their students and what they have to say.” 

“I would like to see the Global Education program gain a director that is culturally sensitive and aware, along with someone who actually cares about their students and what they have to say.”

Giovanni Merrifield ’23

Professor of Sociology, Director of International Studies Program Janine Chi, Ph.D., is currently co-teaching the Cuba MILA, “Bodies and Identities in Contemporary Cuba.” Chi shared that “My hope for [the Office of Global Education] moving forward is to improve communication, transparency and advancing the academic learning goals for global learning.”

While students experienced frustrations working with the office, it didn’t always negatively impact their time abroad.

“I had an amazing experience abroad! Something I learned is that you have to be all right with not knowing everything and just figuring some things out once you get there. It is not the office of Global Ed[ucation]’s job to tell us everything, but it is their job to effectively share all necessary information with us,” said Roush.

Keanna Peña '25 is an English and Creative Writing major with a minor in Dance. She is a managing editor for The Weekly and loves writing about student events on campus and sharing her poetry.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here