Fewer beers, more books

Megan Angelo

So the point of studying abroad is to actually study, right? But what many U.S. schools are discovering is that their students might be doing a lot more partying than studying.

According to the New York Times, a string of alcohol-related incidents and aggressive behavior on the part of students studying in other countries has caused Eckerd College to revise its study abroad policy. They now require that all students who wish to go abroad sign a contract that states that they will “behave in a mature, responsible manner.” If they fail to adhere to the agreement, serious repercussions may follow, such as fines and possibly expulsion.

Misconduct abroad is increasingly becoming a concern for many universities across the United States-including at Villanova.

Levi Brautigan, senior program coordinator of international study programs at Villanova, says that interest in studying abroad has rapidly increased over the past five years – and so has the number of students who seem to have trouble keeping their minds on their studies.

“It seems like more students failed last semester than ever,” Brautigan says. “People here discuss this on a regular basis – how to make more academic rigor in the programs.”

Villanova already requires students to carry three to five full-time courses while abroad, depending on their major and program. Students must maintain a C average in each class to get credit for the course. But whether a student pulls a C or an A in a course abroad, that course will eventually be recorded the student’s Villanova transcript as a “T,” which simply designates that the student received a grade of C or above.

That provision alone provides for a certain lenience, but some Villanovans still find themselves coming home with an “F” or two – and a third of those students, Brautigan says, spent the semester in Sydney, Australia.

“That’s a cause for concern,” he says. “Villanova is a very reputable institution, and these students have to maintain a certain academic integrity.”

To address the problem with Sydney, which is notorious for its rowdy nightlife, the Office of International Studies now requires students who want to study there to write a petition essay describing their academic interest in the city.

“This way, we can hold them to some responsibility,” Brautigan explains.

Academic failures may be the strongest indicator of a student doing more partying than studying, but Brautigan says that student behavior is also monitored by resident directors, who keep a close eye on Villanova students in every program location. The resident directors report episodes of poor conduct to Villanova. But such situations, he says, have “not really happened that much.”

“We’ve got good students here,” Brautigan says. “It’s always just a few who get in trouble.”

But trouble for one can mean trouble for all in a time when anti-American feelings are running high in many parts of the world. Besides encouraging students to act with decorum during their visit, Brautigan also cautions them against outward shows of patriotism.

“I tell them they don’t have to wear their American flag t-shirt,” he says.

Brautigan adds that the students should be ready to deal with a opposition to American policies. “I tell them to be knowledgeable and brush up on their politics before they go.”

But even the best-read kids may have to deal with stubborn discrimination, he acknowledges.

“There’s always going to be anti-American sentiment,” he says. “It was there pre-9/11 and it’s there post-9/11; it will be there 100 years from now, and it was there 200 years ago. You will always get that one person who will attack a student and say, ‘You’re an American – go home.'”

One environment that can foster these episodes is the party scene – an aspect of the abroad experience that most students take full advantage of.

Senior Melissa Shah, who studied in Seville, Spain, the spring of her junior year, remembers the nightlife as wild and constant. “Seville is traditional and historical by day, but crazy partying at night,” Shah said. “You can go out as many times as you want, but usually four to six nights per week.”

Senior Kunal Patel had similar experiences during her semester abroad in Melbourne, Australia. “When we first got there everyone was partying every night. There wasn’t a day where you would ask, ‘Are you going out tonight?’ It was always, ‘Where are you going out tonight?'” said Patel.

Senior Stephen Serpe, who spent his summer in Sicily, attributes the difference in drinking age as the cause for the amount of partying going on abroad. “The drinking age is lower than here, so we were welcomed at the bars, and many kids on the trip took advantage of this,” Serpe said. “I personally do not drink, but we hung out at the bars at least every other night.”

And, Serpe points out, no matter how oblivious the crowd may seem, the locals do notice. “Italians don’t drink to get drunk,” said Serpe. “We were a spectacle wherever we went.”