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Senior Lillian Martin studied abroad in Germany last spring. | Courtesy Lillian Martin

One afternoon this past spring, Pro­fessor of German Eberhard Geyer sat down to coffee and cake at Saarland Uni­versity in Saar­brücken, Germany with two of his Hillsdale stu­dents, seniors Lillian Martin and Rachel Smith.

“It was so inter­esting to have that dif­ferent cul­tural expe­rience with the same pro­fessor that I have in Michigan, where we probably wouldn’t have engaged in that sort of activity, but it was just natural for us to do so in Germany,” Martin said.

Martin and Smith spent the spring semester abroad through Hillsdale’s Saarland Uni­versity Exchange Program. The program is one of eight study abroad progrms that the college offers in six coun­tries: England, France, Germany, Spain, Argentina, and Scotland.

While Hillsdale’s campus cannot boast a presence overseas, indi­vidual depart­ments coor­dinate with schools abroad, pro­viding stu­dents with immersive expe­ri­ences and a greater sense of inde­pen­dence. Since each program is orga­nized and headed by a faculty director, stu­dents benefit from a per­son­alized approach to their goals and needs. However, this decen­tral­ization has some down­sides: Because the pro­grams vary widely, the courses don’t always transfer neatly, and the merit-based financial aid stu­dents enjoy on campus might not follow them abroad.

The exchange program in Saarland immerses stu­dents in a large uni­versity setting: “They’re coming from a cush­ioned Hillsdale to a baby-swim sit­u­ation,” said Geyer, who is the director of Hillsdale’s German study abroad pro­grams.

If a semester of swimming isn’t appealing, German stu­dents can travel and take classes with a Hillsdale pro­fessor for a month through the Würzburg program, through which stu­dents earn five aca­demic credit hours while trav­eling in southern Germany.

“It is an inter­me­diate to advanced lan­guage course,” Geyer said. “I think it gives stu­dents who have passed the lan­guage require­ments the feeling that they could actually, after this intense program, con­tinue living in Germany, that they could actually con­verse in the lan­guage. It is a very bright light at the end of the tunnel.”

Like the Saarland program, the popular Oxford affil­i­ation throws stu­dents into the Oxford Uni­versity pond and lets them swim, according to Academy Head­master Kenneth Calvert, who advises those involved in the Oxford Study Abroad Program.

“It is not a Hillsdale-in-Oxford kind of thing, where we are sending our pro­fessors,” Calvert said. “The stu­dents are there to work with genuine Oxford Uni­versity faculty.”

Stu­dents who go to Oxford don’t live in a house owned and operated by the school, the model for Stanford Uni­versity and the Uni­versity of Notre Dame, for example. Nor will they learn under Hillsdale pro­fessors accom­pa­nying them. Instead, stu­dents expe­rience the typical Oxford tutorial, where they work one-on-one or two-on-one with an Oxford pro­fessor.

“Our insis­tence on making this exclu­sively a tutorial between the student and the pro­fessor is some­thing that is somewhat unusual for Hillsdale College,” Calvert said.

Each year, seven to eight Hillsdale stu­dents go to Oxford for a summer session or a semester. The Oxford Study Abroad Program accepts stu­dents from over 650 col­leges and uni­ver­sities worldwide, placing the stu­dents into one of Oxford University’s 39 dif­ferent col­leges.

The Spanish department partners with Spanish Studies Abroad, a center for cross-cul­tural study with affil­i­a­tions in Spain, Argentina, and other Spanish speaking coun­tries. The company pro­vides inter­na­tional stu­dents with oppor­tu­nities to gain a deeper under­standing of the lan­guage and the culture.

“We have worked with them for a long time because we have con­fi­dence in the quality of their aca­demic instruction,” Pro­fessor of Spanish Kevin Tee­garden said. “They use the some of the same books that we do, their courses match our require­ments, and that sort of thing. We are very com­fortable with them.”

Since 2003, 144 Hillsdale Spanish stu­dents have studied abroad in a variety of dif­ferent pro­grams, most heading to Seville, Spain, where stu­dents take classes with other Amer­icans at the Spanish Studies Abroad center.

“Most of our stu­dents have opted to go to the Seville program, I think mainly because stu­dents come back, and they’ve had a great expe­rience, so they rec­ommend it to their friends,” Tee­garden said. “That is the largest Spanish program Hillsdale stu­dents go on.”

According to Reg­istrar Douglas McArthur, credits earned through Hillsdale’s official study abroad pro­grams do transfer and are con­sidered insti­tu­tional credit that counts toward a student’s Hillsdale GPA. There is no guar­antee that those same credits will also count toward a student’s pro­grams of study, majors or minors, he said in an email.

“How credits might apply toward a spe­cific program is a decision made by the appro­priate department chair,” McArthur said. “Each official program has a faculty director, and inter­ested stu­dents should see the director to learn how the par­ticular program works and what is nec­essary to par­tic­ipate.”

Some Hillsdale stu­dents, however, opt to study abroad through other col­leges.

Junior Suzie Peyre­brune spent six weeks this summer studying at the Uni­versity of Dallas’s Rome campus, where she took classes in both Lit­erary Tra­di­tions and the Art and Archi­tecture of Rome, par­tic­i­pating in excur­sions with her group of about 60 stu­dents.

“I think the classes that I took were very much in line with Hillsdale’s edu­cation, and the places that I visited were also very important to what I have learned at Hillsdale,” Peyre­brune said.

Peyre­brune found the program through a high school friend, and she said her lit­er­ature class will transfer as elective credit, and her art class will count for her fine arts core credit.

For Peyre­brune, the program was attractive because of the location (Hillsdale does not have a Rome affil­i­ation) and the inex­pensive price.

Several of Hillsdale’s study abroad faculty directors said the pro­grams’ costs, which insti­tu­tional financial aid often cannot cover, can present a dif­fi­culty for stu­dents inter­ested in study abroad.

Geyer said the Würzburg summer program can end up being a “very expensive month.” The Würzburg program costs $2,600 for Hillsdale College’s summer school tuition of five credit hours, as well as program ser­vices esti­mated around $1,700, in addition to flight and other costs abroad.

“The Oxford program is very expensive, and it is pro­hib­itive for stu­dents who want to go,” Calvert said. “I will have in a given year, have 25 to 30 stu­dents inquire after the program, and only 10 of them will go. It always, always has to do with money.”

According to Tee­garden, financial aid does not follow stu­dents off-campus.

Rich Moeggenberg, director of financial aid, con­firmed that financial aid packages assume full-time status for both the fall and spring semesters.

“Gen­erally speaking, merit schol­ar­ships can’t be applied to summer school and they can’t be applied to study abroad,” Moeggenberg said.

There is, however, a variety of schol­ar­ships ded­i­cated for study abroad within each department and program. Moeggenberg said there are schol­ar­ships for the modern lan­guages of Spanish, French, and German, in addition to a long-time endowed schol­arship specif­i­cally used for study abroad.

One school of similar size and approach, Grove City College in Penn­syl­vania, which also boasts insti­tu­tional inde­pen­dence from the gov­ernment, has ded­i­cated offices to study abroad pro­grams, making it easier for stu­dents to find pro­grams. Grove City’s Office of Inter­na­tional Edu­cation aims to maintain their affiliate program costs around the same price as the typical semester on campus, plus addi­tional airfare and housing costs, according to their website. At Hillsdale College, each program is run by its respective director and department as well as the business office, the registrar’s office, and the financial aid office, making it dif­ficult to keep costs con­sistent across the board.  

“Only one time in all my years here, people from all depart­ments sat down and talked about study abroad,” Tee­garden said. “Our big concern then, and it’s still a big concern today, is cost. As far as I know, there has never been a con­certed effort to raise money just for study abroad, and I think that’s really some­thing our college ought to con­sider.”

Despite the heavy cost, stu­dents say studying abroad enhanced their Hillsdale edu­cation.

“Studying abroad showed me the impor­tance of com­mu­ni­cation and how lan­guage can open up doors,” Martin said. “It was such a beau­tiful thing that the best friend that I made there is from the Canary Islands, and I had no idea that place even existed before. We com­mu­ni­cated in German, even though her native lan­guage was Spanish, and her English was basi­cally fluent so we could have resorted to English, but we were there for the purpose of chal­lenging our­selves, and that’s what I gained from studying abroad, just chal­lenging myself and putting myself out there.”

Pro­fessors say that studying abroad is worth it, as the ben­efits to the college expe­rience far exceed the costs.

“It’s an important part of a young person’s edu­cation, espe­cially if you’re a lan­guage major, but even if you’re in business or other fields,” Tee­garden said. “That expe­rience of going abroad and learning about other cul­tures, which forces you to reflect on your own culture, is an invaluable expe­rience, and I think it should be part of a liberal arts edu­cation.”