You might not see as many tagged photographs of your friends abroad in Barcelona this spring.
The Penn Semester in Barcelona program is not taking place this semester, and the future of the program will be announced in February.
Director of Penn Abroad Barbara Gorka said in an email that the program is “on hold,” but they “are working diligently to secure a Barcelona option for fall 2014 … hope to know more by the end of the first week of February.”
Last summer, changes in the leadership of Penn Semester in Barcelona, which is run by the University, made it necessary for the 16 students who had signed up for the program in the fall to join the Consortium for Advanced Studies in Barcelona instead.
A week before they were set to leave for Spain in August, the students received an email from Danielle Scugoza, an associate director of Penn Abroad and the adviser for the programs in Spain and Cuba. The email informed them that the resident director for the program would no longer hold that position, according to College junior Becky Sokolow, who studied abroad in Barcelona last semester.
“We didn’t know any circumstances, and we didn’t find out anything more when we got there,” she said.
College junior Mike Keramidas, who also studied in Barcelona last semester, said that he was extremely surprised to receive the email from Scugoza in August. “It was kind of nerve-wracking to get something like that six days before we were supposed to leave,” he said.
Gorka added that the email the students received also explained that the general structure of the program would be the same but that their cultural seminar and onsite support staff would be different.
Gorka said that she is unable to discuss personnel issues related to the resident director because of confidentiality constraints. When asked if the absence of a new resident director is the reason the program is currently on hold, she said, “It’s not a black-and-white issue. Many factors are involved.”
Director of CASB Juanjo Romero said in an email that about a month before the students arrived, his program was consulted about whether it could also supervise the students from Penn’s Barcelona program. Since CASB was already preparing for a larger group than usual, Romero said that it was not a problem to incorporate the extra 16 students.
Romero said he thinks that CASB was a good fit for the Penn students because both programs aim to provide a complete immersion experience through direct enrollment in local universities as well as opportunities for involvement with the Barcelona community. “[Penn’s] academic student profile is similar to that of CASB’s and their academic requirements while abroad were almost identical,” he said.
Gorka added that from Penn Abroad’s perspective, “the transition was relatively smooth.” Scugoza traveled to Barcelona before the Penn students arrived, “and stayed for their first week to help ease the transition.”
Keramidas said that there were a few logistical differences related to travel and living accommodations that made the Penn students slightly less integrated with the other students in CASB. Those from Penn were not housed in the same dorm as the CASB students, and because of security at the dorms, they could not interact with each other spontaneously. Some Penn students also traveled to Seville separately from the group.
However, Keramidas noted that these issues were not significant, and the CASB staff was extremely accommodating and helpful. “I think the problem just came from the fact that we joined so late that it was very difficult for them to make the arrangements in such a quick manner,” he said.
Keramidas is hopeful that the Penn Semester in Barcelona program is up and running by next fall so that students can experience everything he loved about Barcelona. “It was definitely my best semester so far,” he said. “Probably one of the best times of my life.”
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