A world in lockdown did not make for an ideal time for education abroad programs. To be far from home, as the pandemic disrupted daily life and plunged the globe into uncertainty, did not feel comfortable for many students, not to mention their parents.
That unease was particularly felt at Babson, where education abroad is such an integral part of the College experience, with the school offering 120 programs in 41 countries. By the start of the 2020–2021 school year, those programs had ground almost entirely to a halt. “If you asked us in fall 2020, we were wondering how and when education abroad would resume,” says Amir Reza, dean of Babson Academy and global education. “We were all concerned, but we remained optimistic.”
The College’s education abroad team continued to plan multiple programs for the future. Unfortunately, the pandemic dragged on. “They had the optimism it would be OK, and then only found that it wasn’t,” Reza says. “They were pushing that rock up the hill, but then it would roll down.”
The staff pivoted to provide online cultural programs, giving students a taste of other countries even though they couldn’t travel. “We did focus on where we could innovate,” says Lorien Romito, senior director of international education. “We took the opportunity to expand the definition of global learning.”
By the start of the 2021–2022 school year, however, attendance in Babson’s in-person education abroad programs came roaring back, particularly among semester-long programs. “They are almost up to pre-COVID times,” Romito says. “We are seeing the demand.”
That bounce back in programs comes as Babson recently was given strong rankings, once again, by the Institute for International Education’s annual Open Doors report, a comprehensive resource on international students and study abroad programs. Among similar speciality-focused institutions, Babson remains ranked with the very best for international programs, a designation that speaks to just how important learning abroad is to the College.
“Babson is a place where global learning is prioritized,” Reza says.
A Global Mindset
Just how essential is study abroad to a Babson education? Consider that, despite the pandemic’s disruption, 63 percent of the Class of 2021 took an abroad program for credit at some point during their Babson careers. That percentage has been steadily rising through the years, with 2021 being the highest ever of any graduating class.
Some students felt so strongly about education abroad that they petitioned Babson to let them go during the 2020–2021 school year, when anxiety about the pandemic was still running high. Twenty-one students traveled abroad that year.
One of those was Jake Thomas ’22, who attended Austria’s Vienna University of Economics and Business in spring 2021. “Going abroad was an unbelievable experience, and I’m glad Babson allowed me to go given the COVID situation,” Thomas says. Despite the circumstances of a pandemic, he still had all the invaluable experiences one associates with studying abroad: exploring new cities, learning a new language, adapting to a new culture. “I was able to meet friends from all over the world,” he says.
Annie Liu ’21 went to Scotland’s University of Edinburgh in spring 2021, and she admits the program was difficult at first. “It was hard getting used to the new environment, figuring out the Scottish school system, and making friends in a pandemic,” she says. In the end, though, the program left a significant impact on her life. “I saw myself grow as a person, and I gained a wider perspective on the world,” she says.
That international perspective, Romito says, stays with students and can help them in their lives and careers. “You can’t be a successful entrepreneurial leader without a global mindset,” Romito says. “We are an interconnected world. It is so important to have the skills to navigate across different cultural experiences. Those skills are very important to our graduates.”
The results from the latest Open Doors report further illustrate just how popular study abroad is at Babson. In data going back to 2019–2020, Babson ranked No. 2 for the total number of students participating in education abroad.
Breaking that data down further, the College ranked No. 1 for the number of students in short-term duration programs, and No. 2 for the number of students in mid-length duration programs. Additionally, in data from 2020–2021, Babson ranked No. 7 for total number of international students at the College.
“You can’t be a successful entrepreneurial leader without a global mindset. We are an interconnected world. It is so important to have the skills to navigate across different cultural experiences. Those skills are very important to our graduates.”
Lorien Romito, senior director of international education
Not that these impressive rankings are new for Babson. “We’ve gotten these ratings pretty consistently,” Romito says. “We’re always really proud of them.”
That isn’t to say that education abroad doesn’t come with challenges these days as the pandemic lingers. Some of the more popular destinations, such as Australia and China, continue to have restrictions on visitors.
Also, while attendance in Babson’s semester-long programs has bounced back—with 273 students attending them in 2021–2022 vs. 290 students two years ago—the shorter-term programs, which typically last 10 to 14 days, have been slower to rebound. That is due, in part, to long quarantine restrictions upon arrival to some countries, which can make short-term programs impractical.
Going forward, the goal is to continue to help as many students as possible to study abroad, inspiring them as to what awaits in places far from campus. “We are helping them imagine this as a possibility,” Reza says.
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