Study Abroad Language Requirements Change
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
The Committee on Academic Standards (CAS) approved changes to the language requirement for off-campus study (OCS) on Tuesday, Oct. 2.
In the past, the College required students who wished to study off-campus in a non-English-speaking country to take at least one semester of the applicable language before departing, if Kenyon offered the language.
This requirement included Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.
Beginning with the current sophomore class, however, the College will no longer require students to take a semester of a language beforehand. Instead,
“Students participating on OCS programs in a country where the official language is not English must take a language course while on OCS,” according to the updated OCS handbook, which will be presented to sophomores today. “Failure to take this language course will result in no credits for any coursework from the OCS semester transferring back to Kenyon.”
While prior language study will not be a requirement for application, the Center for Global Engagement (CGE) will consider it when approving students’ proposals.
Likewise, students will still need to fulfill the requirements of the actual off-campus program.
Director of the CGE Marne Ausec said she believes this policy change will be more flexible for students.
“It means you don’t have to enter Kenyon knowing that you want to go to Italy in your first year and so you [take] Italian,” she said. “It means that we’re saying, ‘okay, you can show us your trajectory and you can make an argument for why all of a sudden you want to do this, that’s okay.’ People change their minds a lot between freshman and sophomore year, and we want to be able to accommodate that.”
Though the CGE is currently performing a self-audit of its procedures, the language requirement change was not part of this review process, according to Ausec.
“We don’t want to wait two [or] three years. If you know [policies] need to be fixed, you go ahead and fix them,” she said. “This is us looking at what we’ve done in the past. There [are] constantly little tweaks along the way.”
As part of the revision process, Ausec presented the proposed changes to CAS and faculty members at a full faculty meeting earlier this school year. According to Ausec, the general feedback was positive, though Associate Professor of Biology Wade Powell did voice one concern.
“The concern that I raised, along with some others, was [we might] get into a situation where maybe cultural engagement is not the primary goal in [a student’s] OCS program,” Powell said, speaking specifically of science students. “[If] the language of the lab is English and the purpose of the lab is to do science, is there an opportunity cost to requiring a student to [lessen] the scientific function of the experience and take language courses instead?”
Powell suggested that in situations like this, the student could petition the CGE.
“Things are always open to petition at Kenyon for better or for worse. But I don’t think students can just freely go about,” Ausec said. “Yes, a lot of people speak English, but that doesn’t mean the local culture isn’t there and it doesn’t mean that it isn’t important.”
Despite this initial concern, Powell said upon further research the change likely will not affect most biology students. For instance, many students who want to study in tropical areas often choose that area specifically because they want a Spanish-speaking country. Likewise, many programs already have a language element built into the program.
“[These] scientific programs where the main goal is science still regard cultural engagement [as] important enough that they set their program up to include it, and they don’t put students in a position of having to make a choice [of] ‘do I meet my primary scientific goal, or do I have to take away from that to fulfill this Kenyon requirement?’” Powell said. “So, my thinking is, the programs we are going to approve will likely have this kind of component. I don’t view the language thing [as being] a very huge problem.”
Ausec confirmed that off-campus programs typically have a language component already. “Of course we’ve looked at the programs,” Ausec said. “We don’t think that there’s one out there that doesn’t offer language when it’s in a foreign country.”
Ultimately, Ausec hopes this change will better support students’ academic plans and emphasize the importance of language in a cultural setting.
“It would seem to me that, even if the language of instruction is in English, that by going to a foreign country, you would hope that a student would want to be engaged in that local culture,” she said. “You can’t do that without language.”