December 23, 2008 | Myrna Anderson

This year, Calvin College topped its category in the annual Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange.

This year, Calvin College topped its category in the annual Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange.

First among 40

Calvin ranks first among the top 40 baccalaureate institutions in the nation for the total number of students who study abroad in a given year. Joining Calvin in the top ten from that category are Saint Olaf College, the University of Richmond, Oberlin College, the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, DePauw University, Colby College, the University of Minnesota-Morris, Colorado College and Middlebury College.

Ellen Monsma, Calvin’s outgoing director of off-campus programs, sees the top ranking as validation of the college’s many efforts to promote international education: “Calvin has really encouraged students to do something off-campus during their college careers, and that has sparked interest,” she said. “Our numbers have just continued to grow.”

Campus numbers match up

On-campus research aligns with the Open Doors findings: “When we did a survey of last May’s graduating class, we asked them if they had done any off-campus program, whether it was a semester or an interim,” said Monsma, who has directed the program since 1999. “Two-thirds had done at least one … and some had done more than one.”

According to the 2008 report, which recounts data from the previous school year, Calvin had 632 students who studied abroad in semester programs, interims and other programs. The college currently hosts programs in Spain, Honduras, China, France, Ghana, Hungary, The Netherlands, Mexico, Great Britain and Thailand. (The Thailand Semester is midway through the approval process toward becoming an official Calvin program, said Monsma.)

Interims abroad

Calvin’s many interim courses based in other countries multiply the opportunities for students to study abroad, said Monsma: “A lot of students can’t get away for the semester because they have a job, or they have a tight program—say like a nursing student or engineering. It’s hard to go away for a semester, but they can go away for an interim.”

Calvin currently offers interims in Honduras, Belize, Panama, Jamaica, Spain, Germany, Scotland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Greece, Switzerland, Kenya, Jordan, the Yucatan, China, Australia and Tibet. “We also have students going on programs (sponsored) by schools that we have endorsed as being good programs,” Monsma said.

Cross-cultural benefits

She said that students reap many benefits from studying outside their native countries: “Rather than learning about a country and a culture, they go and live in these places. It’s an experience that helps make the learning more real. And I think, too, that being away from their normal context of being on campus teaches them independence and self-reliance.”

The study abroad experience also enhances students’ faith experiences, Monsma added: “Interacting with other societies also stretches them in terms of their relationship with God and their experience with God’s world and what it’s all about.”

Cultivating off-campus awareness

Incoming director of off-campus programs Don De Graaf is also thrilled with Calvin’s Open Doors result: “I just think it speaks to the long history of support and work by so many people at Calvin. It didn’t just happen this year. It’s been a long time coming,” said De Graaf, who will assume the directorship in July of ’09. “I think it’s wonderful that we’ve created a culture on campus that really sees international travel—getting off campus and having cross-cultural experience—as having a role to play in a student’s education.”

He praised Monsma’s tenure as director: “She’s been with the program nine years. I think that it just speaks well to her commitment to this and a wonderful legacy that she’s leaving the college.”

“When I saw the survey results," Monsma said, "I thought, this is a nice way to go out. I was very, very pleased.”

Photo from Interim 2009 in Rehoboth, N.M.

Amy De Jong in L'Abri, Switzerland, Interim 2008

Photo from Interim 2009 in China

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