Planning Study Abroad

How does study abroad fit with Social Studies concentration requirements?

The Social Studies curriculum is designed to encourage students to gain expertise both in political and social theory and also in an independently designed area of academic interest, what we call the “focus field.” Students’ focus fields cover a broad range of topics in history and the social sciences but are grounded both in a theme of study and also a regional area. Many students choose study abroad programs that complement their focus fields—by choosing either to study in a region related to their focus field interests, or to participate in a study abroad program with a thematic focus related to their focus field interests. In many cases, students return to the area where they’ve studied abroad to complete thesis research between their junior and senior years. Other students apply to go to the Social Studies at Jesus Program at Cambridge University in England, where they can work one-on-one with Cambridge University faculty to complete coursework directly related to their focus field and thesis. (Jesus is particularly recommended for students who are interested in furthering their studies of political theory and/or development.) In all cases, you’ll need to complete your study abroad during your junior year, so that you can be at Harvard your sophomore and senior years to complete your full year requirements of the Social Studies sophomore tutorial (SS10) and senior thesis (SS99).

Where do Social Studies students study abroad?

Social Studies students study abroad in all regions of the world—including Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. As you think about where you would like to go, and how that decision may be linked to your Social Studies focus field, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you want to acquire proficiency in a particular foreign language?
  • Do you want to lay the foundations for future thesis research in a particular region or country?
  • Do you want to develop historical, economic, political, or other academic expertise in the world area you’re studying as part of your Social Studies focus field?
  • Do you want to gain real world experience in the world area you’ve been studying from an academic perspective?
  • Do you want an academically rigorous opportunity to work one-on-one with theorists and other scholars at Jesus College, Cambridge?
  • Do you want to experience living outside the U.S., even if you have a focus field about some aspect of United States history, society, or politics?
  • Do you want to explore a thematic aspect of your focus field (for example, health and development, or social justice) through a study abroad program that also highlights that theme?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you’ve got good reason to think that there will be a good academic “fit” between your plan of study in Social Studies and your plan to study abroad. A “yes” answer to any of these questions also gives you a good indication of which regions of the world you should (or shouldn’t!) be considering as potential study abroad locations.

What kind of study abroad program should I choose?

As you narrow down your program choices for study abroad, you should keep in mind that there are different kinds of programs to consider. Options include programs run by Harvard University or Harvard University Institutes, such as the Semester Study Abroad Programs in Cuba, Chile, or Argentina run by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Research (DRCLAS); programs run by other colleges or universities, such as Middlebury College; or programs run through agencies that specialize in organizing study abroad, such as the School for International Training (SIT). Some Social Studies students also choose to directly enroll in pre-approved universities abroad, but students who choose this option should be independent and well-organized, as they will need to work out all bureaucratic issues, including locating housing abroad, on their own. A full listing of Harvard College pre-approved study abroad programs and foreign universities is available through the Office of International Education.

Should I study abroad Junior Fall or Spring?

As a Social Studies concentrator, you can study abroad during either the fall or spring of your junior year. If you study abroad junior fall, you won’t submit your focus field until you return for the spring semester, and you’ll be back on campus on time to submit grant applications for summer thesis research and locate a thesis supervisor. If you study abroad junior spring, then you will want to make sure that you’ve already begun the process of settling on a thesis topic and supervisor before you leave campus at the end of your junior fall semester. You’ll also need to submit your grant applications for thesis research funding from abroad. However, you’ll also have the advantage of using your study abroad to complete coursework related to your thesis and may even be able to begin thesis research. Many students stay abroad to complete thesis research through the summer following spring study abroad. The Social Studies at Jesus College Program at the University of Cambridge is only available during the spring semester.

What courses taken abroad can count for Social Studies concentration credit?

You can count up to two courses that you take abroad towards your Social Studies focus field. (At least two of your focus field courses must be taken at Harvard College.) These courses must be taken for a letter grade at your abroad institution, and the course content must be at least 50% social science or history based. The courses must also fit within the general context of your junior and senior focus field.

Students who study abroad may also be exempt from one junior tutorial (SS98) during the semester that they study abroad, provided that they write a 20-25 page paper—the equivalent of a junior tutorial final paper—that they can submit upon return.

Some students also fulfill additional Social Studies requirements, including Economics, Statistics, and Social Studies 40 (Philosophy and Methods of the Social Sciences), through coursework they complete abroad. To be sure that the course you want to take will actually fulfill this requirement, you must submit the syllabus for the course you want approved to Nicole Newendorp before you leave campus to go abroad.

I think I really want to study abroad, but I am not sure yet what my focus field will be. Does that matter?

No, it shouldn’t matter. Although the majority of Social Studies students who study abroad go on programs with some connection to their focus field, every year some students choose to go abroad simply for the experience—or even to have a focused semester of academic work substantially different from the rest of their concentration work. That said, you will want to make sure before you leave that you will still have sufficient space in your schedule to complete all Social Studies requirements before graduation. You should talk with your academic adviser or with Nicole Newendorp about this concern.

What steps should I follow to make my study abroad plan a reality?

As soon as you realize you’re interested in studying abroad, you should visit the Office of International Education (OIE), where staff and peer counselors have walk-in office hours every afternoon from 2-4pm. At the OIE, staff can answer your general questions about study abroad, can provide information about the application process to particular programs, and can help you get started on your application for Harvard credit for the academic work you do abroad. The Office of International Education website also has a list of all study abroad programs that have been pre-approved for Harvard course credit. Once you’ve visited the OIE and have printed out a study abroad application, then make sure you set up an appointment to meet with Nicole Newendorp to discuss your study abroad plan and get your application signed.