A recently-revealed list of new study abroad programs has faced controversy and mixed reactions from the student body. While some students have responded positively to the programs – pointing out that it adds flexibility by opening up opportunities for different majors to go to new and exciting destinations – critics contend that the programs are exploitative and directly perpetuate modern-day colonialism.
Olin student Jake Sutton disagrees with the backlash. “These programs look amazing,” he insisted, adding that he’s applying to go to Chile next spring. “I’ll get to run my own copper mine and try to streamline its operations! Not only do I get to experience a new country and an unfamiliar culture, but I also get real-world experience in a managerial setting. You’re not going to get these kinds of opportunities in a regular classroom.”
Indeed, studying abroad provides chances for students to learn in a variety of ways, whether that involves immersing oneself in a new culture or covering up an oil spill by paying off government officials to turn a blind eye. Just ask Sarah Foley, a political science major going on a Shell-sponsored trip to Nigeria next fall. “Corporate influence in the government is a really important subject these days,” she said, “and being able to see that firsthand is something I definitely don’t want to pass up on.”
Not everyone shares Jake and Sarah’s enthusiasm for the study abroad programs, however. Mary Webb, who is studying psychology, backed out of a program in Shanghai where she would’ve worked with a factory to increase productivity. “I was talking to my study abroad advisor and made an offhand comment about how the factory could do something like open a daycare to make life easier for employees with children; my advisor mentioned that the majority of the factory’s employees are between the ages of twelve and fourteen. At that point, I realized that this program wasn’t for me.”
The Overseas Programs office released a statement this afternoon addressing ethical concerns regarding these programs. “We want to reassure students that we’ve vetted all new destinations and participating organizations very carefully. We would never subject the local residents to any treatment worse than we would allow our own students to go through.”