IRG needs new study abroad petition process

Son Nguyen

I spent the most crucial stages of my cognitive development in Vietnam. I was raised there for 16 years and went to schools in two regions. As a United States Marine, I completed two overseas deployments. I am 25 years old and have spent 17 years abroad. No study abroad trip could have the same educational impact on me. 

Study abroad is a major requirement for the international relations and global studies program. If a student in the program does not want to study abroad, they can petition for an exemption — but the petitioning process is flawed. It does not sufficiently consider students with unique backgrounds or financial restrictions, and it depends almost entirely on the perspectives of a few administrators. 

The program must reform this process to ensure a fair assessment of each student’s situation and to accommodate more students.

Professor Michael Anderson, the program director, said the process starts with the student talking to their academic adviser. Next, the adviser directs the student to Anderson for further evaluation. He then makes a recommendation to the senior associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts Academic Affairs.

Officially, the dean has the final say in the outcome of a petition. In reality, their decision tends to follow the program director’s recommendation.

“For these petitions, I think the dean has almost always been supportive of (my) recommendations,” said Anderson. 

More people need to be involved in the recommendation phase of the petition process. International relations and global studies majors, like most other students, come from a variety of backgrounds and face different challenges throughout their time at UT. Their petitions must be considered by a diverse, authoritative body. 

This flawed system has caused some students to leave the program. I was one of them. 

Anderson denied my petition for exemption because my eighth grade education in Vietnam did not meet the program’s requirement — which demands a high school graduation. Additionally, he created the impression that my military occupation and deployments did not give me enough educational exposure to the local communities. 

“For us, the study abroad requirement is about education, not just experience,” said Anderson.

The program should exempt all military deployments and students with at least 10 years of living abroad. The off duty time veterans spend interacting with local communities during their deployment needs to be considered. An overseas deployment usually lasts longer than six months — longer than some study abroad programs. The program should consult someone with a military background during the exemption process to better assess all aspects of deployment. 

Students with other special circumstances that make it harder for them to study abroad, such as financial hardship, should also be able to be exempt from the requirement.

Nicholas Chan, a UT graduate, transferred out of the program because he could not afford to study abroad.

“Realizing how much I would have to pay out of pocket for this experience, I withdrew myself from the Maymester program.” Chan wrote in an email. “The structure of the program seems to push out a huge population of students (who are) interested in the field but can’t afford to be a part of it.” 

International relations and global studies senior Kristen Jefferson had to take a break from school due to financial constraints caused by her study abroad trip.

“(Studying abroad) constrains me financially to where I have been a senior for the past two years,” Jefferson said. “I’ve been paying, I think, the program fee still, and I just recently got off of it and (I’m) coming back (to UT) in the fall.”

The current study abroad requirement does not take into account the experiences of low-income students and students with other special circumstances. The international relations and global studies program should fix the flawed petitioning process so its students can continue pursuing the major without feeling trapped by the study abroad requirement.

Nguyen is a government senior from Vietnam.