By David Teeples
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Eurospring, Bemidji State’s longest running study abroad program is cutting the popular European tour portion and the credit hours awarded amid accreditation concerns. The International Studies Council made the decision early in this fall. The change significantly lowers the cost of the trip for students and students are being encouraged to take online courses in order to obtain full time student status, says Eurospring 2014 director, Dr. Dave Smith. However, many students and faculty are taken aback by changes to what seemed like a successful trip formula. “It’s crazy,” said Louise Mengelkoch, a retired Mass Communication professor and former trip advisor. “The tour is so fundamental to the program I don’t think you can call it Eurospring without it,” she said.
Eurospring previously offered students the opportunity to study in Oxford for 5 weeks and then go on a guided tour through Europe for three weeks. This version of the trip awarded students 15 credits. In the new trip the Oxford portion remains, but the guided tour is omitted and students are awarded 9 credits.
Students supplementing the 9 credits with online courses to reach full time student status will most likely have some online work to be done while in living in England, in addition to the three lecture courses. Smith said this option allows students to “not fall so far behind in their degree because of a study abroad program.”
Mengelkoch had a different take on students taking online courses while in Oxford. “It’s so ironic that you need to supplement going to Oxford to study by sitting online and taking courses from Bemidji, Minn.” she said, adding that online education does not seem very appropriate in this situation. “It goes against everything Eurospring stands for.”
Britta Berg, a senior, participated in Eurospring last spring. She thought the idea of taking online classes while in Europe would seem cumbersome to the experience. “In Oxford I experienced so much during the day that I would have felt like I missed out if I had to take online classes.” During the five weeks in Oxford she spent the days after her lecture courses exploring Oxford, learning new things outside the classroom everyday, she explained.
The university’s accrediting body the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) has certain criteria for accreditation on it’s website. The core component that the International Studies Council based their Eurospring decision on reads, “Courses and programs are current and require levels of performance by students appropriate to the degree or certificate awarded.” The changes to the program were not a response to complaints but rather a “proactive” move to “make sure the University meets the accreditation requirements,” said Smith.
Mengelkoch, who held a huge role in shaping the model of the Eurospring program, said she was proud of the way it had evolved over the years and that the tour created an essential complement to the trip. “I designed the course syllabus in a way that made students accountable” she said. “It took many years to build connections across the continent, once those connections are torn down you cannot expect to start it back up again.”
Of the students currently enrolled in the program, many signed up during the spring 2013 semester or early in this fall and were not informed of the changes until early September. Nick Lampert, a sophomore participating in Eurospring 2014, said the changes were quite shocking. “I was pretty disappointed when I first heard the news,” said Lampert, “the opportunity to see the continent was a huge draw for me.” Figuring out the logistics of the changes has been frustrating but now Lampert feels better about the trip. “They [the International Programing Center] made it work,” he said. Many students decided to plan their own tours after the Oxford portion, making it impossible to book group plane tickets. Therefore, students are now responsible for booking their own flights there and back. “The cost reduction is nice,” said Lampert, “but really if you go on your own tour you end up spending about the same amount.”
The new trip does provide more freedom for students to plan their own European experience. According to Smith, this is in response to trends in study abroad programs across the nation, to make study abroad more independent. “This change moves Eurospring towards a new model of more independent study abroad programs,” he said.
For Berg, the guided tour, while adding to the sticker price of the trip, was stress free and convenient. “I did not have to worry about travel plans or hotel accommodation, so I could maximize the time I had in each city,” she said.
Both Mengelkoch and Berg commented on how the tour provided context for the entire trip. “After living in England the tour provided us with an experience to see so many different cultures, and it really helped me understand the proximity and variety of European culture,” said Berg. Mengelkoch noted that the program was never meant to be an independent venture, but an introduction to Europe. “Many of my students have gone back because of Eurospring,” she said.
Eurospring, will likely never return to what it was for so many years. “There is opportunity for change depending on the director, but it is unlikely it will go back,” said Smith.
Dr. Allan Chapman, the main lecturer in Oxford is hopeful that the program will remain a part of BSU for many years to come. “As long as Dr. Chapman can stand up and talk, they should keep doing Eurospring,” said Mengelkoch.