Studying abroad is a transformative experience but it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. The International Scholars Program (ISP) has long been a proponent of this semester away from campus and provides Honors students with an added system of support before and after their overseas studies. A collaboration between the Commonwealth Honors College and International Programs Office (IPO), ISP is an explorative three-year program open to first-year students which prepares them for studying abroad through an extensive international curriculum beginning fall of sophomore year and concluding in the fall of their senior year.
“This is a group of 20 students receiving in-depth education towards studying abroad, advising, networking and building a place of belonging where they can meet and discuss with like-minded peers,” says Madalina Akli, director of ISP and the Office of National Scholarship Advisement. The program brings both Honors College and non-Honors students together to learn about cultures beyond the confines of western Massachusetts.
A major draw of ISP is the certificate program, which begins sophomore year and serves as a portfolio-like supplement to students’ interest in international education. “It’s a great opportunity to consolidate experiences in the senior year in a way that’s major and visible—on their transcript, their resume, and in their own experience,” explains Akli. Apart from the general ISP requirements, students who wish to attain this certificate must complete three additional courses that draw on international topics from the standard curriculum.
To apply for the ISP, students must submit their application essay, academic transcript, and one letter of recommendation from a past supervisor or instructor by the March 24 deadline. Submitting a resume is encouraged but not required.
Beyond satisfying specific general education requirements, many of these courses were designed to help students compete for major fellowships, such as the Fulbright program. ISP guarantees accepted students a $1,000 scholarship for each semester spent abroad, along with the chance to apply for a larger scholarship called the Lang Global Scholars Award. Both awards are reserved for accepted ISP students only.
Achieving the famed Fulbright is certainly not the only option, and for many participants, they apply their international knowledge to a much more local setting. “We had students who went to medical school and they studied abroad in Spain and were interested in enhancing their Spanish-speaking skills and working with Spanish-speaking communities here,” says Akli. The benefit of this program is that no one path is right, and it is all about what you want to get out of it.
Not all accepted students are expected to seek a career in another country, or even study abroad at all. With a pandemic in full swing, study abroad experiences may vary, but the lessons students learn will be uniform. “Even with optional study abroad for the entering class, there is great value in ISP. Students are young professionals in their undergraduate careers, they will have a chance to go abroad even if it is a little bit later. The preparation is here,” explains Akli.
With vaccine distribution ramping up and a national shift towards lower transmission rates, the country is beginning to heal. In tandem with this healing process is the return to a new normalcy for all aspects of life, from in-person classes to potentially international travel. Akli explained that when this entering class would study abroad, fall of 2022 and spring 2023, international travel should be much closer, if not completely, normal again.
“ISP fellows and I will never lose hope. I know that students are enthusiastic and interested in going abroad,” says Akli. “I have my students more interested than in other years to study abroad because of the stress of the lockdown. Students dream big; they want to go out in the world, and they don’t want to give up on their dream. The ISP is here to support them.”