Global studies students will graduate with the unique ability to navigate a globalized, interconnected world.
If they can dole out a few extra grand, that is.
The global studies major is a program in the UCLA International Institute, where students learn the ins and outs of globalization as it affects international business, government and education. In a degree requirement specific to the major, students must spend a month abroad during the summer in Shanghai, Paris or New York City.
What they can’t choose, however, is whether to take part in a program that demands up to $6,000 from them just to get a degree.
Clearly, it takes a lot of money to make a global citizen.
Though students can speak to advisors if they can’t afford the program, there are few scholarships and even fewer options outside of petitioning to waive the requirement entirely. Yet studying abroad is an enriching experience and it works well with the global aspect of the program.
Despite good intentions, the mandatory travel abroad requirement creates a major that is inaccessible and exclusive. The program might hope to provide students with a global experience, but it fails to cater to socioeconomically disadvantaged students and perpetuates an elitist program at the forefront of a public university that bears an economically diverse student body.
The requirement attempts to immerse students in the subject material they are studying, said Sandy Valdivieso, the academic counselor for global studies and international development studies.
“The best way to study globalization is to look at the phenomenon in these really international cities, so that the theory and the concepts could make a bit more sense to students,” Valdivieso said.
She’s right: There is no replacement for traveling abroad – and that’s just the problem. Students who can’t afford to study abroad are not given the same opportunity as those who have the money to see the world they are studying.
Scholarships for the program do exist. But there are only 10, each worth $1,000. Students can apply through the International Education Office and the level of competition changes yearly, leaving some students without any aid directly from the program.
Financial aid might cover the remaining costs but there are no guarantees, since the program is specific to the department.
“Since it’s required, I don’t think it’s really fair since you’re paying extra for the degree,” said Gena Huynh, a first-year pre-global studies student.
In mandating such a stringent requirement, the program unfairly shapes the pool of students who decide to pursue the major. Students who are apprehensive about their citizenship or documentation status may stray away from global studies, despite the department being able to waive the program requirement.
“I know a lot of my undocumented friends want to do global studies but it’s really hard for them to travel abroad,” said América Aylín Sánchez Radilla, a first-year pre-global studies student. “Due to the political factors of what is happening in the U.S., I don’t think it should (be) mandatory at the moment.”
Radilla, who is considering switching to a geography major, said the study abroad requirement has made the major financially inaccessible to her, as she is attempting to graduate early.
“Global studies makes it very difficult to graduate in three years,” Radilla said. “And being a first-generation student makes it super hard to navigate the system.”
The program has created some ways around these issues, such as waiving the requirement by allowing students to take two classes that aim to provide a similar experience to studying abroad, but in the classroom. Yet with tuition on the rise, it’s only expected that more students will opt to take these classes. Add in that enrollment is a quarterly mess, and the study abroad requirement might just be keeping people at UCLA for several quarters longer.
Valdivieso said the department regularly considers the implications of the requirement and surveys students to understand their feelings on the travel study program. But polling a group of students committed to or considering a major in global studies is not a representative sample.
If the program wants to truly address accessibility, it needs to go deeper than throwing some makeup classes at students and calling it a day. Sure, the program might not be able to provide enough students with scholarships to allow each of them to participate. But the department can adapt its approach to include more in-country opportunities to substitute study abroad and work to further integrate financial aid as it applies to the travel abroad requirement.
The study abroad mandate ironically makes the global studies major less global. Diversity is integral to a community of global citizens – they come from all walks of life, with different backgrounds, stories and economic standings.
Until the program opens its doors, students will be lost trying to navigate a financial rat race, as opposed to a new country.