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December 9, 2001

Calvin Interim Poses New Challenges
Ellen Monsma

Interim has been a staple of a Calvin education for almost three decades. During Interim students take just one class for three weeks in January. And often those classes take place off campus, including other countries.

This school year those off-campus Interim classes are posing a challenge for Calvin administrators.

"We've never before had an Interim that's come on the heels of something like September 11," says Calvin's Ellen Monsma (above), director of off-campus programs for the school. "That tragedy has caused us to evaluate literally every one of our over 30 off-campus Interim courses."

Already Calvin has canceled Interim classes to Nigeria, India, Israel and Hollywood. Hollywood?

"That (Interim) class is on films and TV," says Monsma, "and it always has included many visits to studio lots. After September 11 the studios have eliminated almost all access to their lots, so the class lost a major reason for being in L.A. The decision was then made to cancel the class."

In Nigeria tensions have been running high between Muslims and Christians since late summer and serious rioting began in September. Israel has travel warnings and the constant threat of violence as a result of Palestine/Israel conflicts. And India, bordering Pakistan, is near a part of the world currently involved in war and rife with religious tensions.

"This series of world events is somewhat unusual," says Monsma. "It's given students and parents cause for concern. And as a college we have recognized those concerns and worked to make our Interim as safe as possible for all of our students who go off campus."

That includes careful monitoring of the State Department website, contacts with local sources on the ground and more. In fact, this Interim Calvin is slated to have almost 600 students at off-campus locations, a record number. Just 10 years ago, in 1991-92, Calvin had 12 off-campus Interim courses involving 196 students. This year there are 28 courses and 582 students.

Those students will travel to and study in such places as: Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, Honduras, Italy, Japan, Kenya and Russia.

Interim is one reason Calvin is consistently among the nation's top colleges for percentage of students who study abroad. About 50% of Calvin's students will have studied abroad at some point during their Calvin career by the time they graduate.

Monsma says study off-campus is an important priority for the college.

"We want students to have the opportunity to study off campus," she says, "because it's such an important part of becoming a global citizen. Students who live and study off campus learn so much about their subject of study and about themselves. They see other ways of doing things, hear other perspectives on important issues and find themselves reflecting more deeply on these things. We now have 10 semester-long off-campus programs and almost 30 during any given Interim. We want our students to have lots of options and lots of opportunities to expand their education."

In addition to providing the opportunities for off-campus study, Calvin also strives to make the trips financially possible. Many of the semester-long programs, for example, are priced close to the cost of a semester at Calvin. For Interim Calvin provides grants and room and board rebates to make the cost more affordable.

"We don't want off-campus study to be only for the wealthy students," says Monsma, "and so we have worked hard as a college to make it affordable. The fact that this year over 800 of our 4,000 students will have studied abroad is a good sign."

Indeed a recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education ranked Calvin fifth in its category for "largest number of students studying abroad in 1999-2000" with 470 students. Locally Grand Valley State University made the list at 11th with 388 students. Calvin was ahead of such schools as San Diego State and Western Michigan University for number of students studying abroad.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-957-6475 (v)
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