In an effort to maintain a greater presence abroad, Barnard College is instituting a slew of initiatives such as the Visiting International Students Program.
In her inauguration speech, Barnard president Debora Spar stated that one of her primary goals would be to expand the College’s international presence—both by attracting more international students and by sending more students and faculty abroad—to facilitate the exchange of ideas and perspectives and to give Barnard a more defined role on the international level. According to Hilary Link, assistant provost and dean for international programs, this has always been a priority, but it has never had quite so prominent an advocate as Spar.
“Barnard has always had a fair number of international initiatives—lots of people were doing them in different ways and capacities,” she said. “We were pleasantly surprised to know that internationalization was one of her top priorities. Her presence galvanized us ... [added] a more cohesive structure to our international initiatives.”
“International students currently make up around 45 percent of the student body. These are students who had to obtain some form of visa in order to study here,” Christina Kuan Tsu, dean for international student advising, said. “If you add in the students who have U.S. citizenship or permanent residency but live in countries outside the U.S., there are another 40 to 50 students.”
One of the initiatives, the Visiting International Students Program, just kicked off this semester. Under VISP, between three and 12 international students attend Barnard for an opportunity to become familiar with American culture and experience a different learning environment. Barnard has developed partnerships with several foreign universities around the world.
“We will have somewhere around 10 or 12 partnerships all over the world,” Link said. “Part of our international efforts includes internationalizing our community as much as possible.” This semester, there are four students from Denmark and one student from Italy.
Kiki Hahn, a 24-year-old student from the University of Copenhagen, described her experience at the Barnard program as enriching. “I absolutely love it here ... it’s very different in all fields,” she said. She added that she had picked Barnard’s program over another study-abroad, calling the chance to go to a women’s college “a wonderful opportunity.”
In some ways, Barnard is very different from what Hahn was used to in Denmark. “Coming to live here, there’s lots of things that are different—the whole thing of almost persuading your teachers to get into a class,” she said. And although she is several years older than most of her classmates, she said that “the age thing has not been a problem,” adding that “people are helpful and very eager.”
Barnard students, on the other hand, are travelling overseas to participate in the International Research and Exchanges Board and Sciences Po, study abroad programs for undergraduate and graduate students.
Some say the programs are a good way to expose students to different perspectives and points of view.
“It makes you more open-minded because you come into contact with all kinds of people,” Fatema Versi, BC ’12, said. “This might sound stereotypical, but Americans are very bad at geography ... By doing this, they might increase [their] awareness of the world around them.”
Deena Elkafrawi, BC ’12, also praised Barnard for its international initiatives. She even suggested that Barnard should use its relationship with its neighbor as a selling point.
“If you’re going to attract students from [the] Middle East ... stress that you are going to meet guys at Columbia,” she said.