Global Seminars Need a Budget Makeover

    Dear Editor,

    This summer, 31 students and I went to Costa Rica where I taught in the UCSD Global Seminars program. While we felt it was a worthwhile experience, there were major problems.

    1. One of the students had already taken one of the classes offered, but she still had to pay the course fee. Two students discovered after signing up that the expenses would cause financial hardships; they were not offered a refund.

    2. Global Seminars administrators were not willing to fund a teaching assistant. Although I had emphasized the importance of having a TA months before departing, my request was denied.

    3. The students had paid $3,500 to cover expenses (excluding flight, personal expenses, etc). The study abroad provider, Centers for Academic Programs Abroad, paid for only three weekend excursions. Furthermore, in two of the three excursions, meals were not fully covered.

    4. Students were housed with Costa Rican families and conditions were often squalid. The host families were paid slave labor wages by U.S. standards. As a result, sickness was a major problem; only four students didn’t get sick, some being ill for up to two weeks with strep throat, flu, colds, ringworm and of course Montezuma’s revenge.

    5. CAPA lacked facilities in Costa Rica, so it hired another organization, Costa Rica Spanish Institute, a Spanish language school. Although several students wanted to take Spanish, no funds were provided.

    6. Students wondered where their money went but were told that this information was not available. Upon returning to UCSD, Global Seminars administrators were equally unresponsive.

    7. Information provided was sometimes conflicting: At UCSD (after students had paid the fees and could not get refunds) they were told that absolutely no alcoholic beverages or “inappropriate behavior” (not defined) would be tolerated. Moreover, it was my responsibility to police them. Then once in Costa Rica, we were told by CAPA that San Jose had great bars that we should take advantage of.

    8. At the end of our first week, we knew that we didn’t want to spend the full five weeks in San Jose, but CAPA decided otherwise.

    9. When still in San Diego, I was asked if I wanted a one-bedroom apartment or a larger one. Since family members wanted to visit, we agreed to pay over $1,000 extra. However, once in Costa Rica, we were told that anyone who stayed with us would have to pay an extra $50 per day.

    10. My wife planned to join us on excursions, but we were told that she couldn’t unless we paid an additional $1,200. For three weekend excursions?

    Frustrations abounded since we felt we’d been ripped off. The Global Seminars and CAPA administrators gave us the impression that they were PRIMARILY interested in money, not students. There must be a better and less expensive way to go abroad than having Global Seminars administrators arrange the trip.

    — Milton Saier
    Professor of biology, UCSD

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