It’s a fact: I love St. Mary’s. I love being able to sail on the river just for kicks, being able to “hike” all of the way across campus from Calvert to Goodpaster in ten minutes flat, and being able to walk the length of the path and recognize almost everybody that I pass.
You know, all of those cliché things that our past tour guides and orientation leaders love to gush about.
The thing that really snagged my attention and made me consider SMCM as my official college, though, was the fact that we have such amazing opportunities for studying abroad.
We can choose to go for a semester, a year, a summer, or over spring break. Then we can decide if we want to stay within the U.S. or travel to places like The Gambia, England, China, or Argentina.
We have signature programs to choose from that help to lower the cost and if we go abroad in the fall we can even qualify for a stipend to help pay for our flights.
Basically our school is just awesome when it comes to convincing us to study abroad.
There is one problem with the programs, though, that I’ve heard many students complain about. It often feels like St. Mary’s is concerned more with pulling as many students as they can into the programs than they are with actually checking in on us once we have finally left our sweet, little SMCM.
Just think about it.
If you have already studied abroad (or perhaps are abroad right now), how many times did the school contact you to make sure that you were settling in alright, that everything was going as planned, that you somehow didn’t tragically die on the flight over, or if you simply needed any help after a volcano erupted in Iceland right at the end of exams causing your flight home (and every other flight out of the continent) to be canceled until further notice?
To all of the first years out there who might not know this, that last one actually did happen to some of our students who studied in Oxford last spring.
They were left stranded in a foreign country, with their flights canceled, their meal plans expired, and the looming possibility that they could have been kicked out of their residences.
Want to know how long it took before they heard any word from St. Mary’s asking if they were alright? That would be about three or four whole days.
Granted, two of those days did coincide with the weekend, so most of our school’s staff were out of the office.
But it would seem that after having such an unfortunate event happen, which was broadcast on every news channel in the U.S., there would have been somebody who would have thought to shoot out a quick email just to double check on them.
But that supposedly didn’t happen until angry parents started calling the school with complaints.
Two of my good friends were in Oxford when all of this was happening. I can only imagine what must have been going through their minds since they had no idea when they would be able to come back home or how they would be able to afford all of the extra meals that they had to buy while they whiled the days away waiting.
I remember them constantly coming up with different ideas about how to get out of Europe, even if it meant they had to kayak to Belgium, drive all of the way to Russia and fly to L.A., to Dallas, to Newport and finally land in Baltimore.
But that’s not my battle to fight with the school. What really irked me while I was abroad was that I was continuously lied to about when I would receive a refund of my loan payments so that I could pay for my rent and my meals.
Not only was I told the day that I left on my flight that all of us studying in Australia would receive our refunds within two weeks, but I was fed the same line many more times throughout the semester.
I completely understand that the only payments we needed to give SMCM was our tuition and mandatory study abroad fee, and that we would have to use our own method of payment to pay for our room and board while we were abroad, but most of us have our student loans for a reason.
And that is because we can’t physically pay for tuition, room, and board up front. Meaning that when I’m abroad and have not received those loans, I literally cannot pay my landlords or buy food for myself.
The second time that my roommate and I asked when we could collect our loan money we were told that we would have to wait until after the add/drop period at SMCM.
Since we had started our classes a month before everyone back home, this meant that we were going to be six weeks behind on our rent.
Then we were told that we would have to wait even longer.
Despite the numerous emails and phone calls to the International Education, Business, and Financial Aid offices, and those messages my parents angrily left, we were always lightly brushed away and told to wait longer.
Eventually I received my money at the end of September, while my roommate acquired hers in October, four whole months after we had landed in Australia and roughly two weeks before our classes ended.
I really cannot count how lucky we were to be renting rooms from possibly the nicest landlords ever. Otherwise, we most likely would have been kicked to the curb before mid-August.
My roommate and I were forced to find jobs to pay for our groceries. Our diet mostly consisted of the Aussie version of Ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Really nutritious, right? We had also originally budgeted our money at the beginning of the semester, but since our loans arrived so late and the exchange rate had drastically changed so much in those four months, we both ended up paying over $500 extra for our rent than originally planned.
A similar problem happened to another friend when she studied in Alba, Italy.
Due to a foolish mix-up in which the Business Office believed she hadn’t paid part of her semester fees, which she really already had, she was told that she should not have ever set foot on her flight to Italy to begin with.
I really don’t mean to bash the school, dissuade any potential study abroad students from taking part in the programs, or make the offices at this school hate me any more than I know they already do.
Remember, I love St. Mary’s! And I really love that we have so many opportunities to travel the world.
My semester in Australia is definitely the most fun that I have ever had, and I got to enjoy it all for five months straight!
I would go on hour-long rants about it if everyone around me didn’t always get so annoyed (i.e. everyone should study abroad in Australia!).
These instances have just started to make some of us think.
How much is the school really concerned about us once they have gotten us into a study abroad program and shipped us off to our respective countries?
It is just some food for thought.