Students discover problem in Study Abroad program

Problems with The Discover the World program, a new study abroad opportunity offering students the chance to spend the semester in Rome, Paris, and Madrid, have lead to difficulty for the students enrolled. According to a student in the program who wishes to remain anonymous, a few weeks after the program’s launch, the final destination was changed from Madrid to Salamanca, another Spanish city. While the move to Salamanca was scheduled to take place on April 5, students received an e-mail on April 2 from the Study Abroad Office making another change in the plans. It asked that nine students volunteer to be housed in a Vincentian Seminary that was 25 minutes away from the hotel where the rest of the students would be staying.

“The Residencia is actually outside Salamanca, in a nearby village called Santa Marta de Tormes,” the e-mail stated. “You can go to the hotel walking (about 25 minutes) or by bus (there is one bus stop in front the Residencia, and a bus to the center of Salamanaca each10 minutes).”

Before leaving for Salamanca, the students tried to contact the Office of Study Abroad, but Director Ruth DePaula was not available to take calls, according to the anonymous student. The next day, another email, sent by France coordinator Fiona Compagnon, explained that the nine volunteers would be a test group whose opinion of the seminary would be used by the University to decide about future housing there. The email ended with a warning that empty spots in the experimental group would be filled by a lottery. It stated, “If you are not coming to the meeting, you take the risk to be chosen without the possibility to make an arrangement.”

The students then sent an email to various faculty members involved in the program, including Ruth DePaula, the director of the Study Abroad program at the Queens campus, Anton Koslov, a government professor, Fiona Compagnon, the coordinator for France, Darren Morton, Associate Dean of Students, Dru Burtz, Associate Director for the Rome campus, Jose Rodriguez, the Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, Sharon Norton, the Vice Provost of the Staten Island campus, and Rosanna Sanders, the Associate Director of International Programs.

“We are located 30-40 minutes away from Salamanaca’s city center,” their e-mail said. “This poses a problem since the buses do not run at night and taxis are few and far between.” Their e-mail added, “We were encouraged to travel to other places on the weekends, but living in this new residence makes this difficult if we have early departures or late night returns, as many of us already do, which cannot be changed.”

The students received a response the following day, asking them to be “mature and responsible” about the situation. The lottery went ahead as planned, and, according to the anonymous student, nine students were chosen to stay at the seminary. One parent, who called the hotel that the other students would be staying in, learned that it could only accommodate 22 people, meaning that the hotel never had enough rooms for all the students to stay. The students, however, had been told at a meeting before they even left for Spain that the only reason nine students would be staying at the seminary was to try out the new residence for future programs.

The first e-mail sent to the students stated, “I think the Vincentians have a laundry room there, but I don’t know if it is going to be working for such a small group. Anyway, there is a shopping center five minutes walking from the Residencia, and you can find everything there, even a laundry room with good prices.”