Trading a Semester Abroad for DC
Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 02:09
To most Georgetown students, a semester away from campus immediately equates to a semester abroad. But some students from other universities instead come to Washington, D.C., for the Semester in Washington, D.C. Program to reap the benefits of District life that Georgetown students often take for granted.
SWP, run through the School of Continuing Studies since 2003, attracts between 200 and 300 students each year. Participants take classes at the SCS campus in downtown Washington, often complete internships and take part in specific programming. Most students live in downtown D.C. in housing at New York University’s D.C. campus.
“We’re having guest speakers come talk to us about things that I find really interesting that I didn’t even know until I came to this program,” Seth Bynum, a junior at Vassar College who is currently enrolled in SWP, said. “It’s extremely helpful in helping us figure out what we want to do with our lives.”
In particular, participants’ semesters often begin with a particular introduction to D.C. This fall, SWP students heard Obama’s and civil rights leaders’ Aug. 28 speeches on the National Mall commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
In the past, students have also attended events with entrepreneur Bill Gates and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and have engaged the program’s partnerships with the National Press Club and Politico.
The students, however, have minimal interaction with main campus; Bynum said he has been to the Hilltop only once in the month he has been in D.C. The SCS’s move downtown from its former M Street location this fall has further decreased the likelihood that SCS participants will find reasons to come to the Georgetown area.
But D.C. and its opportunities, rather than the Hilltop, are the main attraction for SWP students, most of whom are juniors and seniors, although the program is open to all college students. Recent years have seen an uptick in international student participation, particularly from China and Latin America.
Applications to the program require transcripts, recommendations and a personal essay about professional development and the program’s connections to students’ courses of study.
SCS Senior Associate Dean and Chief Administrative Officer Jim Parenti emphasized the importance of the program’s ability to connect theory and application by prioritizing the connection between academics and work experience.
“Our program allows students to see that coursework works with internships, rather than on top of them,” Parenti said.
Julie Hutchinson, a junior at Haverford College and an applicant to the program for the spring semester, said this focus on interning was a factor in her decision to apply to Georgetown’s program, as opposed to other D.C. programs.
“You’re doing an internship and having that experience, as opposed to having just classes at another university,” Hutchinson said.
Brian Bentley, a senior from Point Loma Nazarene University who is currently enrolled in SWP, agreed.
“It provides a really good atmosphere to get engaged with work and really build a foundation for networking and professional skills,” Bentley said. “If you take that challenge and you think critically and apply that same critical thought process to your internship, to your classes, the experience starts to build on your knowledge.”
Bentley added that Georgetown’s reputation played a large role in his decision to come to SWP.
“Finding an opportunity to attend Georgetown University for a semester, I didn’t want to turn that down,” Bentley said. “It’s something that most people don’t get an opportunity to do, and I was very blessed.”
Jen O’Neil, a graduate from Boston College who participated in SWP in spring 2011, agreed.
“Having that Georgetown name meant that the people we got to meet were just far superior to anybody else,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil’s original SWP internship with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) turned into her full-time career. She now works as Johnson’s scheduler and executive assistant.
This exposure to future career paths is a hallmark of SWP, compared to more traditional study abroad programs.
“The contacts I have in this program, I’m going to be in contact with them in the long run, maybe for the rest of my life because they want to do the same things I want to do,” Bynum said. “The people I’m meeting … they become professional contacts that I’llable to call on in the future.”
Many SWP participants cite these opportunities as factors for choosing a study exchange program in the United States rather than studying abroad.
“I think it’s a more productive experience — I have friends in New Zealand and Europe who are country-hopping on the weekends,” said Bynum, who was originally going to study abroad in London. “Other than getting the experience of going to another place, there is not much that is productive or will actually help them in the long run.”
Overall, O’Neil expressed satisfaction with her experience at Georgetown and in D.C., although she had originally been hesitant about taking a semester away from her alma mater.
“I wanted to know, that at the end of my senior year, when I graduated and went out to the workforce or decided to apply to grad school, I could say that I took every opportunity to make the best of my four years. I was thinking about staying in school and taking as many cases as I could,” O’Neil said. “But then I found out about the Semester in Washington Program. … Semesters like that are really what I was looking for to make the most out of my college career.”