«PROGRAM OVERVIEW IFSA-Butler Argentine Universities Program is an advanced level Spanish semester or academic year study abroad program in Buenos ...»
The Institute for Study Abroad, Butler University (IFSA-Butler)
Site: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Program: Argentine Universities Program (AUP)
Dates: June 8-13, 2014
IFSA-Butler Argentine Universities Program is an advanced level Spanish semester or academic
year study abroad program in Buenos Aires in association with Universidad Católica Argentina
(UCA), Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA), Universidad del Salvador (USAL), Universidad Torcuato Di Tella (Di Tella), and Fundación Universidad del Cine (FUC). All students take an intensive theme-based Spanish language and Argentine culture course taught by program faculty. Depending on academic background, area of interest and sending school requirements, participants complete their schedules by choosing either a specialized program of study selected from among seven optional areas of academic concentration (including a related community practicum or directed research project) or a customized general program of study that includes one additional IFSA AUP program course and/or two to four integrated university courses at one or more of the local partner institutions. All students live in family home-stays and have the opportunity to volunteer at a local NGO or social service organization. Supported by seven fulltime staff members, 16 part-time academic advisors, concentration coordinators, and Spanish professors, as well as six visiting professors, the AUP, together with the Buenos Aires intermediate program and the Mendoza program, enrolls an average of 150 students per semester from a wide variety of U.S. colleges and universities. The program features an excursion to Colonia, Uruguay and a series of optional small-group cultural activities that give students an insider’s perspective on life in Argentina. Various aspects of the program and its staff members are evaluated internally and changes are routinely made based on the results.
PROTOCOL AND PREPARATIONThis is the first external review for this IFSA-Butler program (since the dissolution of the COPA consortium in 2008). The Protocol for Evaluating Programs and Program Evaluation of Systems and Operations (PESO) followed herein was designed by IFSA. The members of the site visit
Melissa Hardin, Ph.D. (email@example.com), Review Team Chair Assistant Dean for International Studies / Assistant Professor of Spanish (Visiting) Ursinus College Barbara Gorka, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) Director, Penn Abroad University of Pennsylvania Nadia Altschul, Ph.D. (email@example.com) Assistant Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Spanish Program Johns Hopkins University
In advance of the site visit, the review team considered feedback provided by IFSA including:
Additionally, the external review team sent out email calls for feedback and offers of telephone interviews to the 59 sending schools that sent 3 or more students to AUP from 2011-2014, followed by up to three reminders. Professionals from 38 institutions, including most of those who are members of the IFSA-Butler National Advisors Council Executive Committee, responded in writing or orally for a response rate of 64%.
During the site review, which took place from June 8 to 13, 2014, team members met with staff, students, faculty, and partner university faculty and administrators. We also toured sites and facilities in order to gather information and perspectives from various stakeholders. Our
schedule included the following:
Abbreviated guided city tour Dinners with IFSA-Butler faculty and staff (including IFSA-Butler president and CEO Mark Scheid) and guests Meetings with small groups of IFSA-Butler faculty and/or staff to discuss orientation, housing, health and safety, academic advising, student services, curriculum, and co- and extra-curricular activities and volunteer work/service opportunities Campus visits with representatives from various facultades from all four host universities Lunch/dinner meetings with currently enrolled IFSA-Butler students (approximately 15 students participated) Observations of all available IFSA-Butler program classes and of two host university classes (for purposes of comparison) Tours of two student homestays and visit with host mothers Meetings with volunteer work supervisor at a local organization Guided class visit to Museo de la Memoria The external reviewers jointly drafted and agreed on commendations and recommendations, which are made part of this report.
IFSA-Butler response: The Institute for Study Abroad, Butler University would like to thank Barbara Gorka and Nadia Altschul for their hard work and time spent on this evaluation and report. We’d especially like to recognize and thank Melissa Hardin for her leadership on this project. She has spent countless hours evaluating the program and producing this well-written report. To all three, we’re glad to have you as part of the IFSA-Butler network of colleagues, so that all together we may advance our mission in support of our students.
We would also like to express gratitude for the excellent work and dedication of our Buenos Aires staff, who went above and beyond expectations to make arrangements for a successful evaluation visit. Mario Cantarini, Daniel Peiró, and Patricio O’Dwyer, in particular, went out of their way to ensure a that all the needs of the evaluation were met.
Finally, I want to thank all of our colleagues at our partner universities and throughout Buenos Aires that contributed to making this a thorough review, and especially for their high-quality work that allows us to hold the kind of program we envision, and for their on-going support as we carry out this program each semester.
IFSA-Butler accepts this report and we believe it accurately reflects the work we do in Buenos Aires. We have made some adjustments following this report and will continue to make others as we strive to incorporate the reviewers’ suggestions.
INTRODUCTIONIn the eyes of many education abroad professionals, the AUP represents the golden standard for advanced language facilitated direct enrollment. The many program options make possible a seemingly infinite number of combinations of learning opportunities supported by individualized academic advising. Participants, who come from a wide range of U.S. colleges and universities, see themselves and this program as a cut above others in Buenos Aires. At the heart of its success is a professional staff with an unusually low turnover that has dedicated many years of service under the leadership of a well-respected resident director who inspires students and staff alike to pursue excellence in all their endeavors. With the addition in 2006 of curricular concentrations, the AUP appeals to students with special interests as well as those who seek a more varied academic roster. One might say that the program’s ability to anticipate and meet the shifting needs of contemporary students is its hallmark, but as program options continue to increase and diversify, the AUP must find new ways to clarify the many different tracks and highlight the core values that tie them all together. Sending schools heap praise on almost every aspect of this program, but uneasiness over future growth is emerging. One sending school
representative expressed a concern that others appear to share:
“Future growth I hope is not in terms of more affiliated universities or institutions. The number of these already is a bit confusing for the students and perhaps hard to quality control. …. Also I would not like to see the main program grow in terms of number of students. Our students more than ever need individual guidance about their academic program and the living situation in BA.” In all of its complexity, the AUP is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The abiding theme that arose during the external review was the sense that this program is actually many different programs under one name and its richness is far too easily lost in translation. As the AUP looks to the future, IFSA must plan carefully in order to avoid having its virtue—chameleon-like customizability–turn in to its vice.
IFSA-Butler response: The addition of the concentrations allowed this program to grow during the years enrollment was at its largest, while at the same time maintaining the individualization and personal attention that has characterized the program from its start. This format allows the program to expand and contract over time. Yet, with IFSA-Butler’s expanded operations throughout Latin America, numbers of students have not been as concentrated in Buenos Aries in recent years, enabling us further to focus on each individual in the program. At the same time, the need for clarification of tracks and the values that bind them is well-noted, and we will continue to refine this.
ORIENTATIONPre-departure Advising Because this program is so complex and includes so many different options, thorough, clear and continuous pre-departure advising is critical from the time students choose IFSA-Butler AUP all the way to arrival overseas. One way that IFSA-Butler tries to make the voluminous information more discernible and less overwhelming for students is by breaking it into discrete sections organized around broad topics (health and safety, academics, housing, etc.) that are delivered in a series of periodic email installments. The messages are clear and concise and include web links to more detailed information. The emails also invite students to follow up with the IFSA-Butler program advisor on any lingering questions. Furthermore, several emails are sent directly to students’ families. Yet despite these efforts, students don’t always read carefully and/or they miss important details that could better inform their decisions and actions. This became evident in written and oral feedback the review team considered in preparation of this report.
Upon acceptance to the AUP, students receive a link to the extensive Preparing to Study Abroad:
Argentina online handbook, yet program evaluations demonstrate that some arrive in Argentina lacking a very basic understanding of the cultural and social reality that awaits them there.
Students complain that they were not told the program end date until well into the semester or that the end date they were given for the group return flight was prior to university final exams, resulting in extra expenses and hassles to change their air tickets. There are numerous critiques of the visa application and residency processes. Students repeatedly remark that the budgets and tips on money matters are outdated. Surveys point to the type, timing and format of information students feel they need most pre-departure (including how and when to get a criminal background check, how to get documents notarized, how to understand race, religion, gender, and sexual identity in the Argentine context, how to ensure personal safety, how to start the residency process, how to deal with inflation and currency exchange, etc.). It should be noted that students say they prefer email as the main mode of communication (far more so than web links and postal mail); however, in practice it appears to be of limited effectiveness.
The most striking message is that students seem to want more information to be provided sooner and more frequently. Yet in our review of materials we found that many of the items students mentioned were outlined if not described in detail in one or more of the pre-departure documents. Indeed, despite a few comments to the contrary, the great majority of students characterized the pre-departure emails, newsletters and online materials as very useful. Clearly, written information alone (in whatever form) is not an effectual means of communicating with today’s preoccupied students. The pressing question for IFSA-Butler, then, is how best to ensure that students read and retain the information. We believe that the way information is packaged and delivered can be enhanced. As one sending institution representative commented, “The website information is a complex web of information with indexing tabs, and sub tabs that may be confusing. Electronic data should be clear, concise, and easy to index through.” We recommend, therefore, that the handbook, orientation manual and other materials be gathered into a single, more cohesive and searchable source that both students and IFSA-Butler advisors can readily reference at any stage of the process. Capturing the undivided attention of young people poses a challenge to all study abroad programs, but IFSA-Butler might also consider implementing new strategies to reinforce the information students receive. For example, IFSAButler might invite or require admitted students to participate in pre-departure webinars or tutorials. These might include role plays, podcast testimonials of former participants, and/or some other interactive exchange that actively engages students with IFSA-Butler staff and perhaps with each other. Another idea is for IFSA-Butler regional representatives to partner with sending school study abroad offices to conduct interactive program-specific pre-departure orientations on campuses.
Recommendation #1: Prepare a single searchable document for students, advisors and staff to access before, during and after study abroad. Be sure to address specific student needs as identified in surveys.
Recommendation #2: Consider new interactive ways to deliver pre-departure orientation both virtually and in person.
IFSA-Butler response: We are working with our IT team and consultants to create a way for us to deliver pre-departure advising in a way that is more appropriate for today’s student. We encourage our alumni as well as their home schools to continually share feedback about their semester, including financial information, as we strive to incorporate their experiences into revisions of our information.
Notwithstanding the aforementioned issues, most students indicated that they felt very well supported in the pre-departure phase. Several commented (and this was echoed by sending schools) that Indianapolis program advisor Ashley Krutz was especially prompt and helpful.
There was similar praise for former AUP advisor Eryn Espín-Kudzinski.