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Stanford's overseas studies program expands its offerings

The Bing Overseas Studies Program delivers a Stanford education in 11 locations around the world – from Paris to Beijing, from Oxford to Kyoto, from Florence to Moscow, from Madrid to Cape Town, from Santiago to Berlin, and in Australia.

Ali Maggioncalda Students in Cape Town

Students Kadesia Woods, Margaret Arias, Poni Bepo and Jessica Jin took a break from their coursework at Stanford's Bing Overseas Studies center in Cape Town, South Africa, to pose at the top of the city's iconic Table Mountain.

The Bing Overseas Studies Program will be expanding its offerings by adding summer quarter programs to attract students whose schedules make it hard to leave campus during the academic year and by developing a pilot program in Istanbul for students interested in studying in a Muslim country.

In addition, the program this year inaugurated a new Italian headquarters in a historic palazzo in Florence.

Nearly half of every Stanford graduating class spends at least a quarter studying at one of the program's 11 locations worldwide or as part of a short-term summer seminar. Still others participate in such special offerings as Community Health in Oaxaca. With its new offerings, the program hopes to increase those numbers, especially among students historically unable to study abroad.

"There are lots of different ways for students to study abroad," said Irene Kennedy, executive director of the Bing Overseas Studies Program. "It could be a regular academic quarter. It could be a summer quarter. It could be a three-week seminar. It could be a one-time, 10-week program, such as the pilot program in Istanbul. There are so many different models, there is probably a model that will work for every student."

Summer quarter programs

Bing Overseas Studies will launch a summer quarter program in Santiago in 2014 and a summer quarter program in Cape Town in 2015.

Melissa Ada Melissa Ada overlooking Santiago, Chile

Student Melissa Ada looks out at the city of Santiago, Chile, from San Cristobal hill.

Kennedy said Bing Overseas Studies hopes these new summer quarter programs, which are open to all students, may prove enticing to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students and to student athletes. Both groups have been underrepresented in Bing programs.

"It's harder for STEM majors to study abroad, because they tend to take sequences of courses – an engineering series, a chemistry series, a biology series – and it's hard for them to step out of the sequence for a quarter," she said. "It's hard for athletes to study abroad because of the seasons of their sports or their training schedules."

In addition, the summer programs will make it easier for Stanford to find Chilean and South African faculty members to teach courses. Because it will be winter in both countries, universities are in full operation and faculty members are available to teach.

"It's always been a challenge in the Southern Hemisphere to get strong faculty in January through March," she said.

Kennedy said there was another reason for adding a summer quarter in Cape Town.

"The most significant component of that program is the service-based learning out in the townships and communities," she said. "We think it would be better if that experience lasted longer. So we're also going to encourage students who are in Cape Town during spring quarter to stay through the summer and continue the work they're doing."

Destination Istanbul

Planning is underway to launch a winter quarter program in Istanbul in January 2015 in partnership with Koç University.

Ali YayciogluClass lecture in Istanbul

A Bing Overseas Seminar takes place on the terrace of the Research Center for Anatolian Civilization of Koc University in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Istanbul program, which is a pilot project, represents a departure from Stanford's traditional overseas studies model, in which the university rents space, hires staff and establishes a year-round operation.

Instead, Stanford is partnering with Koç University, a nonprofit private university, which will provide classrooms, housing, field trips and cultural programs under a 10-week contract. Koç teaches all its classes in English. The president of Koç is Umran Inan, a Stanford professor emeritus of electrical engineering.

"The program in Istanbul offers Stanford students the opportunity to live in Turkey, a fascinating country considered the meeting place of East and West," Kennedy said. "It also offers them the opportunity to live in a Muslim country – a first for the Bing Overseas Studies Program."

Currently, Ramón Saldívar, the Burke Family Director of the Bing Overseas Studies Program, is working with a Stanford faculty committee to develop the curriculum.

"With the addition of opportunities in Istanbul and Oaxaca, we continue our long-term plan to make the world available to Stanford students in ways that are intellectually exciting and challenging," Saldívar said. "They represent the latest efforts on the part of the Bing Overseas Studies Program to help Stanford students become knowledgeable and responsible global citizens."

Overseas studies model

While many peer institutions send their students to other universities for overseas studies programs, Stanford runs its own program. Kennedy said it's a model other universities are beginning to emulate.

Bing Overseas Studies ProgramPalazzo Capponi alle Rovinate

Stanford's Overseas Studies center in Florence, Italy, is now located in a renovated Renaissance-era palace.

"Our overseas studies courses are developed by Stanford faculty with our program directors," she said. "The courses are vetted by academic departments on campus. Before we offer a history course overseas, for instance, the history department faculty here reviews that course to make sure it meets Stanford standards. That doesn't happen if you're using third-party providers."

Currently, Bing Overseas Studies has 40 overseas staff members who run "mini-universities" abroad by providing classes, acting as registrars, and providing housing, meals, cultural events, field trips and athletic opportunities.

In Beijing, Stanford students live in a dormitory. In Australia, they stay in university facilities as they visit research stations on the east coast. In Cape Town, students live in two adjacent guesthouses, and in Oxford they live in a residence hall. In the other programs, students live with local families.

Kennedy said Stanford values its ability to oversee the academic rigor of its quarter-long courses, for which students can earn 12 to 15 credits.

"If you want to talk about why we're cutting-edge, it's because we're delivering a Stanford education in these 11 different locations," she said.

Overseas seminars offer flexibility

This summer, the Bing Overseas Studies Program offered eight overseas seminars, in Austria, Brazil, Costa Rica, India, Israel, Madagascar, Palau and Wales, up from five last year. The three-week seminars are offered during the summer.

For undergraduates with limited time to spend off campus, the seminars offer an opportunity to participate in a Stanford overseas experience.

"The idea behind the seminars is to offer flexible options, not just for students but also for faculty," Kennedy said. "Faculty want the experience of teaching overseas, but perhaps they're running a research lab and it's not practical for them to be gone for a quarter. So the three-week seminars are a nice option for them as well."

New Florence headquarters

In May, Bing Overseas Studies inaugurated its new location in Florence: the Palazzo Capponi alle Rovinate. The Capponi family, which still lives in the 15th-century palace, rented one of the floors to Stanford following a yearlong renovation.

"The renovation was a very collaborative process," Kennedy said. "The Capponi family, which paid for most of the infrastructure improvements, was very generous. Stanford paid for the features that customized the historic space for the program."

The Renaissance-era palace, which overlooks the Arno River, is located in the heart of Florence. The center includes offices, classrooms, a break room, student lounge, reading room, kitchen and art studio.

The August issue of Abroad, the alumni newsletter of the Bing Overseas Studies Program, features a story about the opening celebration, which drew such local dignitaries as the mayor of Florence.