ies, recalled that at the time of UNC’s
bicentennial in 1993, “study abroad” was
itself a foreign language. “My impression is
that then, international studies was absent
from the priorities,” he said.
Through the 1990s, study abroad programs received little funding, had no full-time designated staff and were under the
jurisdiction of the College of Arts and Sciences. The Study Abroad Office, with Miles
as its first full-time director, was created in
2000, the same year then-Chancellor James
Moeser called for an increase in undergraduate study abroad participation.
Since then, “internationalization” has
become a buzzword throughout the UNC
System, and Carolina has put considerable
effort into developing the overseas opportunities students want; with the help of private
donors who have found study abroad an
attractive designation, UNC also has begun
to help those from lower-income families
pay the often formidable cost.
Kennetra Irby, a senior majoring in
Spanish and minoring in chemistry and
medical anthropology, did field research in
Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua. “I
would have never thought I would have
stumbled upon a program that would incorporate medical anthropology and Spanish,”
she said.“When I found it, I thought ‘Oh,
my gosh, this is exactly what I need.’ I think
other students need to have that kind of a
‘this is exactly what I need’ moment.”
More of them are, and Carolina is touted
as a haven for emphasis on study abroad.
Administrators at Chapel Hill are convinced
that is true, though some are wary of the
way statistics are gathered.
For several years, UNC has been ranked
among the top 25 doctoral research institutions for undergraduate study abroad participation by the Open Doors Survey, an annual
report on international education — and a
couple of times has received Open Doors’
top rank among public research schools. But
the survey uses a formula that shows about
one-third of UNC undergraduates study
abroad, and that is an exaggeration.
Also, Miles said, the survey doesn’t adequately compare the quality and depth of
programs.“We want to be sure that students
go on a quality academic program,” he said.
“The participation statistics in no way reflect
this.” UNC does not offer any programs
shorter than a month; some schools count a
week abroad at semester break.
“We do very well in terms of participation, but it would be nice if there were an
equally powerful statistic that speaks to the
quality and duration of programs,” Miles
said. “But we live in a world of rankings.”
Carolina’s study abroad program grew
quickly, and just as it was moving into quarters alongside the University’s other international programs in the new FedEx Building,
all was not going smoothly.
In fall 2007, the office was criticized for
slow credit transfers — some students were
waiting to get earned credits when registering for the next semester’s classes — and an
inadequate advising staff. Miles blames this
on a series of advising resignations that left
the office shorthanded. He said the temporary advisers who filled in those positions in
summer 2007 were not well-versed in program offerings or the credit-transfer process.
“Five resignations in a period of four
months,” Miles said. All those vacated positions have been filled by trained advisers,
one position was created, and now the office
has seven full-time advisers.
An administrative assessment of the program was begun last year and a report was
expected by the fall, but it stretched past the
start of 2009. Miles insists there will not be
any earth-shaking revelations. He said the
report will focus on how to increase participation by minority students and others who
haven’t taken advantage in large numbers.
Universities across the country have
faced another thorny issue as study abroad
programs have grown. Third-party providers
have become a big business, and last year
The New York Times reported on providers
who offer colleges numerous perks in