Why Study Away?
Many students are excited about the opportunity to study away before they have even arrived at college! The opportunity to immerse in the life of another community, either in the U.S. or another country, is a privilege that gives new perspective on the study of politics. Meeting new students and faculty, and experiencing different educational systems, has many rewards. Many students at Macalester have never had the opportunity to live outside of the United States, and a study away in college may be the longest, richest opportunity for travel that you will ever have.
But the decision isn’t always so simple. Other activities and opportunities, such as athletics, can complicate the timing, and students pursuing a double major may worry about their ability to complete the necessary courses if they study away. Some students, including U.S. citizens, have lived abroad for such a long time that their time in the U.S. is more valuable to them. There are many factors to consider. Overall, the faculty in the Political Science department strongly encourages all students to consider a semester of study away and to talk about it with their adviser. Study away is not required for the major.
Finding a Study Away Program
If you are interested in studying away, where should you begin in looking for a program? Macalester’s Study Away office provides an excellent beginning. You can stop by for a casual visit to look at brochures or student reviews of programs, or you can also make an appointment with a counselor. Working with the Study Away office, the Political Science department maintains this online list of recommended programs:
Or, for a more comprehensive list, click here: Recommendations from Departments and Concentrations
What should you be looking for? There is no one answer. Students have many different–and sometimes competing–priorities for their choice of a study away program.
Curriculum matters, of course. Many programs are topic-focused, while some offer great flexibility. Directly enrolling in a large university abroad may give you access to thousands of courses. In making that choice, your learning style and the pedagogy of the host institution could be an issue. Try to learn about the culture and style of learning in various places before you get too far into your search. For some students, a guided program by an established study away provider gives them the confidence and support that they need, while others want the freedom of choice and truly immersive experience of directly enrolling and taking courses like any other student.
For many political science students, the language of instruction and the language(s) of the host country matter a great deal. If you have been developing language skills with an eye to your career beyond college, immersive study away sometimes helps students reach fluency and learn specialized vocabulary.
Most students tell us that the pace and expectations of a semester away rarely exceeds that of Macalester, though there are exceptions such as Oxford and Cambridge. Yet, challenges come in different flavors. Many programs support internships and directed individualized study. Many students begin speaking with faculty before they go in order to craft a plan of research for their study away, ultimately turning that into a senior capstone or honors project. Of course, many students also look to their semester away for opportunities for travel. For some students, a semester away may be the only time that they’ll live in another country for a sustained period of time. There is value in getting off the beaten path. But you don’t have to go far away for it be deeply enriching. As a political science student, some of the greatest insights can be found in destinations that are very similar…but just different enough…from home. Indeed, we call it “study away” rather than “study abroad,” because many excellent programs are based in the United States.
With so many possibilities, we encourage you to reflect as well as research, and to speak with an adviser in Political Science early on in the process.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many courses from Study Away may I apply to the major?
Two, plus a practicum. The Political Science major requires that you take seven of the nine courses in the department (with some exceptions for particular courses by Macalester faculty, such as Professors Roopali Phadke or Nadya Nedelsky, who are not “in the department” but we treat as “in the department” for this purpose). Many students take those two classes during their study away. In addition, the Practicum can be met while on study away, either for credit or as a not-for-credit experience.
How do I find out what classes can count?
You may be able to determine this on your own, or if you have any doubt, you can email the chair of the Political Science department. Many classes are unquestionably “Political Science”. Many programs offer courses with titles such as “The Government and Politics of [the host country]” that need no further scrutiny. If a course is offered with a “POL” or “POLI”-type designation in the program or host institution, those will also count.
The borderline cases concern interdisciplinary courses, undesignated courses, or courses in other fields (such as law, history, or sociology) that have some “political” content. The Department’s approach is to take a broad approach toward counting courses from Study Away, so long as they fall under a broad umbrella of helping you to deepen your understanding of the politics you’re observing and studying while away. Thus, courses such as “The History of the European Union” or “Buddhist Philosophy and Social Conflict in Asia” may be counted, even if such courses might not be considered for the major if taken at Macalester. With these types of “complementary” courses, you should email the department chair before you enroll and should provide as much material as you can at that point (such as a course description). In some cases, it may be necessary to see a syllabus before a decision can be made.
Sometimes students discover once they are enrolled in the course that the class has far more “political” content than they expected, or that an independent project takes them in that direction. You may email the department chair with courses materials (e.g. the syllabus and your own work) if at any point this occurs.
I am going to take a Political Science course on Study Away. How do I get this credited to my major?
If you are taking a course that is clearly Political Science, or even if you have emailed with the chair to verify that it will count for the major, you must contact the chair after your credits have been transferred back to Macalester and appear in DegreeWorks. Sometimes the chair may put a note into DegreeWorks before you leave indicating for the record an agreement to count a course, but since this sometimes occurs as long as a year in advance of when the grades and credits arrive back to Macalester, these are not acted upon by the Registrar’s Office. With many programs, your grades and credits transfer back quickly and efficiently after the completion of your program. With some universities outside the United States, it may take several months. If you have any questions about that process or an exceptional delay, contact the Registrar’s Office.
Can I fulfill the Methods requirement with a Study Away course?
Generally, no. You should plan to fulfill the Methods requirement at Macalester. Many programs offer a course that teaches some methodology or “approaches to the study of politics”, especially when there is an independent project component, but these course are usually narrower or different in scope. In rare cases, a course compares closely to POLI 269: Empirical Research Methods. In such cases, appeals to the department chair for an exception should include the full syllabus for the course.
What about the rest of the requirements in the major?
You can use Study Away courses to fulfill the Practicum and the Theory requirements. All courses transfer back to Macalester as intermediate courses, and may not be used to fulfill the Foundations or Advanced (300-level) course requirements.
My courses aren’t four credit courses. How will they be applied in the major?
Courses on Study Away often transfer back to Macalester irregularly, ranging from two to eight credits, and sometimes in odd amounts such as 2.5 or 3.5. With our principle of allowing two of your nine courses to come from outside the Department, the chair will work with you to apply eight credits to the major.
Can I do research for my capstone while I am on Study Away?
Yes. Doing individual research while on study away is an excellent way to connect your learning and build toward your senior year. Fieldwork, such as interviews and archival research, can bring a level of familiarity and understanding of a place that coursework may not provide. For obvious reasons, we strongly recommend that you complete your course in research methodology before you go, and further, that you speak with an adviser in Political Science so that you can frame a good research question or direction before you arrive. Importantly, if you think you may gather data that involves human subjects–most commonly, interviews–you must take a number of steps to ensure the ethics of your work. See this page of instructions for Macalester’s Study Away IRB.