Some students worry that when they arrive at Colby in January everyone will have made their friends and won’t be looking for more. They are anxious about not knowing anything about campus when their classmates already are acclimated. Ultimately, they just want to be at Colby.
But thousands of miles from Waterville last August, strolling atop the rampart in the nearby town of Beaune, Alex Haskell ’10 explained how she approached the disappointing news. “I figured being forced to spend three and a half months in France was a small price to pay,” she said, passing by one of many roofs made of glazed clay tiles arranged into patterns. “I felt like this is an acceptance to my first-choice school and, even if it’s a roundabout way, I felt [it] was worth it.”
Beth Ponsot ’10 and Eliza Cohen ’10 check out photos they’ve just taken at Place de la Libération, a Dijon landmark.
So why the “roundabout” path to Colby? The College instituted the program for first-year students to study abroad in 1985 to address a financial issue, according to Beverage, who did not work at Colby at the time. More juniors were choosing to study abroad in the spring semester, which caused an enrollment imbalance. To make the best use of resources, Colby instituted this program, which was—and still is—unusual among peer institutions. “I wasn’t a believer when I came [to Colby in 1985],” said Beverage. “It took me a while to become a believer.”
One of the struggles involves explaining to students and parents why an applicant received this nontraditional acceptance. “Many of them look at it as sort of a back-door entry or second-class citizenship,” Beverage said, but he argues that they should not see it that way. “Usually they’re kids who present pretty compelling cases from a personal standpoint and we want very much to enroll them at Colby. We know that they’ll do okay academically here,” he said, stressing that these students often bring strengths that will make them valuable campus citizens. Colby has opened the program to regular admits who prefer to start in Europe, if there’s room—an option a handful of students take each year, according to Beverage.
The College also tries to choose students for these programs whose profiles indicate that they will make the most of an abroad experience. “You tend to put people in there ... who have a level of maturity, maybe have traveled, maybe have done an overseas program, have the independence to go on one of these programs and acquit themselves well,” said Beverage. Colby also expects that these students will respect and, ideally, embrace the cultural differences—a major focus of the programs. “Part of the experience here is to be in another part of the world where things are completely different,” said Javier Gonzales, resident director of Colby in Salamanca, the sister program of Colby in Dijon. “They have to accept another type of reality.”