How to Earn an M.F.A. Low-Residency Writing Degree Abroad
Combine Part-Time Residency and Online Instruction Any Location You Choose
In the late 1990s each state had only a few colleges offering MFA in creative writing programs, and many novelist wannabes applied for those highly coveted spots. However, after the Internet boom, writing degrees offered
online by traditional colleges with lower tuition fees came into being, and the Low Residency Abroad programs emerged.
“Low-res” means students and instructors convene for week-long residencies, allowing bonds and friendships to develop, so these literary gatherings of intensive workshops feel more like fun-filled getaways. Usually
they’re held once in winter and once in summer; between seasons, the online work is done. Most MFA in creative writing schools only have the academic get-togethers on American campuses. However, now some writing residencies are done overseas.
Fairleigh Dickinson University offers a low-residency, master’s in creative writing degree for fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction. During the winter, students go to the village of Wroxton, England where FDU owns
a 17th century estate, to which American novelist Henry James loved to retreat and spend his days. He called Wroxton “one of the most noble and charming places he’d ever been to.”
The lush, green grounds of Wroxton were something straight out of a scene from Brideshead Revisited. The mansion, where students stay, is full of tapestries, carved fireplaces, antique paintings, and stained glass windows.
Many lectures are held either in the upstairs room of gold gilt, or in the labyrinth of libraries full of burgundy couches. My room was in the right wing of the mansion, overlooking a lovely courtyard laced with moss.
After the residency is over the online work begins. For one semester students are digitally partnered with an international faculty member such as Saigonborn Linh Dinh and Indian novelist Victor Rangel-Ribeiro, who review
students’ writings and post comments on how readers from their homelands might perceive their work.
Although most American colleges offer study abroad, according to my findings in the past five years only Fairleigh Dickinson University, The University of New Orleans (where it’s mandatory that all residencies be done
abroad in the summer), and Carlow University in Pittsburgh have met the three criteria: online flexibility, the master’s in creative writing, and overseas residencies, making them pioneers in this new form of digital-study-gone-international.
However, the trend is spreading. Union Institute & University started offering an optional summer residency in the Alps of Slovenia. The University of Southern Maine now offers its online graduates
the option to do their residency in Dingle, Ireland (instead of Portland), where they’ll be taught by Irish authors. The course takes place during July at no extra cost (with exception of airfare).
Meanwhile, north of the border, the University of British Columbia is trying to lure Americans into its low-residency MFA program, where week-long workshops are held on its home turf in Vancouver. So the concepts of residencies
abroad, offering opportunities to be taught by foreign writers, is definitely catching on.