In conversation with Darin Menlove

Deciding to spend a semester or summer abroad is a big deal — it takes a lot of careful deliberating and planning. The Daily Californian managed to catch up with Darin Menlove, director of UC Berkeley’s study abroad office, to learn more about the programs the office runs. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Daily Californian: Where are the most popular places students choose to study abroad? Why do you think those countries draw the greatest numbers?

Darin Menlove: Popular programs include summer options in England (University of Cambridge, London School of Economics and University of Sussex), Korea (Yonsei University) and semester options in Italy (UC Center Rome) and Hong Kong (HKU). These are attractive to students in different majors because of the range of courses available, strong academic reputation and cultural opportunities.

DC: What are some “hidden” or less popular destinations that students don’t often go to but thatmay provide cool alternatives to the most popular places?

DM: The “road less traveled” locations within UCEAP include New Zealand (multiple universities), Czech Republic (Prague Film and TV School — central Europe’s pre-eminent film academy), Singapore (NUS) and the Solomon Islands (Environmental and Community Health program in cooperation with Australia’s University of Queensland).

DC: How does the study abroad office choose its destinations when opening new programs? Or, alternatively, how does it choose which programs ought to be closed down? Are there recent examples of these phenomena?

DM: At Berkeley, we have two different types of programs that students use to go abroad. There’s UCEAP, which is managed by the systemwide office that’s near Santa Barbara. How they choose which programs to open or close, that’s in their hands. … Usually it’s just about filling in the gaps with what we don’t have. Either with a location or a subject area, if we see that there’s student demand for that, UCEAP will look for a partner for that.

What would motivate them to close a program? Probably two reasons. If we have an exchange imbalance — over time there should be an even exchange (of students), and if they can’t maintain that balance, that would be a reason for closing the program. For security, UCEAP will usually not close a program but rather suspend it until the security improves.

For Berkeley-specific programs, there are two types: our faculty-led programs and the global internships. For the faculty-led programs, those come about with academic departments or when individual professors propose a topic or subject, and the office provides administrative support for those programs. What could cause us to close a program would be if a professor retires or the instructor decides that they don’t want to do it anymore. We will also cancel programs if we don’t meet the target enrollment for certain programs.

The other type of program is the Global Internships program. … The only reason we’d have to close a (global internship) program would be if student interest waned, but to date we’ve never closed a global internship program for that reason.  

DC: How do global trends or events impact students’ views and trends of going abroad? Have you seen any changes over recent years?

DM: Students are trending toward short-term summer programs. As a study-abroad professional, I well understand the benefits of studying abroad for longer periods of time. In other words, a year is usually better than a semester; a semester better than a summer, etc. This is especially true for language acquisition programs. That being said, I believe any time abroad can be worthwhile, beneficial and meaningful.

DC: How do recent tragedies in Dhaka and Nice impact the study abroad office? Are the changes to security procedures or the like?

DM: In a way, tragic events such as those in Dhaka and Nice only embolden us — study-abroad professionals, advisers, professors — to encourage more and more students to go abroad. It may sound cliché, but we must do a better job of knowing each other as the world becomes a more integrated place. How better to do this than by going abroad and getting to know other people and other cultures? As for security, well, nothing has received more attention than this in recent years in the field of study abroad. There is no way to ensure safety 100 percent at home or abroad, and some events cannot be predicted or planned for entirely.

DC: What are the procedures students should follow if an event, like Nice, happens when they’re abroad?

DM: Plans vary, but the measure of any good study-abroad program is a good communication and emergency plan in case of a tragic event. While we suffered tragedy and extreme grief in Nice, for example, students had good instructions on what to do, good lines of communication with the resident director and staff and all students who were able to respond did so very quickly. Our plans in that location worked, even in the most unexpected situation.

DC: What is the top reason students should study abroad?

DM: We have serious students at Cal, and it’s true that most students go abroad to broaden their knowledge in a given subject and acquire the numerous soft skills that usually come as part of study abroad — intercultural awareness, adaptability, respect for others, etc.  But there is no shame in saying that students should go abroad for fun! I don’t mean to party and sunbathe at the beach, but rather, to enjoy yourself, to feel fulfilled and rewarded, to experience the fun of difference.

Contact Ivana Saric at [email protected]