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Students study abroad in alternative programs

Nicole Michels | Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Notre Dame Office of International Studies boasts 40 programs in 20 countries, but some students choose to pursue other international study programs not affiliated with the University.  

Senior Kristen Kelly studied abroad during the spring of her junior year in Geneva, Switzerland through the School for International Training (STI).  She said she was attracted to the program more than Notre Dame’s options because it allowed her the chance to shape her semester precisely around her interests.  

“[The program explores] international studies and multilateral diplomacy, and it was based in Geneva,” Kelly said.  “Geneva’s such a hub for so many international organizations like the U.N. and the Red Cross, and then the second half of the semester is an independent research project that you can tailor to your own interests.”

Kelly said her project synthesized her various academic interests in a unique way.

“My major is anthropology and my minor is international development studies,” Kelly said.  “I have been to Uganda the past two summers [and observed] the need for sustainable and just farming in Africa. … Studying abroad in Geneva and talking to all of the development experts gave me a policy level understand of all these development issues.”

Kelly said her research will position her to craft solutions to the problems facing Ugandan communities when she returns this summer.

“I’ve seen how those policies and development theory are applied on the ground and will draw from that understanding when I go back to Uganda this summer,” Kelly said.  “I thought that doing my own research project would be beneficial to my own learning experience and to something I want to do in the future.”

Junior Brooke Murphy, currently studying in Copenhagen, Denmark, said she wanted the structural freedom that only a non-Notre Dame study abroad program could provide.  

“I chose a non-ND study program because I wanted to do something completely independent, but also because I wanted to study architecture in a Nordic country,” Murphy said.  

Communicating with people from different countries and backgrounds often creates a problem, Murphy said.

“The hardest part about studying and living in and visiting foreign countries is encountering a language barrier,” Murphy said.  “I’m really good at charades now.”

Murphy said although she has loved her time abroad, she feels the pull back home to the Dome.  

“The thing I miss most about Notre Dame – never thought I’d say this – but hearing about the madness that is football season really [stinks],” Murphy said.

Murphy said she has been able to explore Europe through her program.

“The structure of this has allowed me to travel all across Europe: I have designated travel weeks just for me to experience other countries,” Murphy said. “I’ve traveled to Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Amsterdam, Budapest, Rome, Vienna, Prague and all over Denmark.”

Kelly said her program also gave students travel periods.

“The program took us for a week to Paris and Brussels – all the travel was so much fun,” Kelly said.  “I went to so many different countries; it was such an unparalleled experience.”

Kelly also said she appreciated the opportunities to experience culture throughout the region.

“All the travel weekends, that was up there [in the list of top moments] for me,” Kelly said.  “This program also had a home stay component. I had never taken French before but I stayed with a French-speaking family so I learned French in the household … They would take me on family ski trips. Living in Switzerland was a very cool experience but especially because of my family from there.”

Students interested in studying abroad through a non-Notre Dame program should start the process early, Murphy said.

“The application for being in a non-ND sponsored program meant there were lots of hoops and barrels and red tape that I had to jump over at the University,” Murphy said.  “For example, I’m technically on a leave of absence from the University and will have to reenroll when I return in the spring.”

Kelly said she would advise every student to consider pursuing international study programs beyond ones offered by Notre Dame to ensure they find the program that fits their interests best.

“If you don’t get into one of the Notre Dame programs I think there is an option for a later application process where you can apply to these non-Notre Dame programs,” Kelly said.  “If study abroad is something you want to do don’t limit yourself to the Notre Dame programs, explore your options: there’s definitely something, somewhere for everything. … It’s worth it to continue to look until you find one that is best for you.”