Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cutting Through The Confusion Over Knox’s Status In Perugia

Posted by stewarthome2000

[Shots: School for Foreigners; bottom shot from above Meredith’s house]

The media have now repeated countless times that Amanda Knox was on a “study abroad program”.

In fact, as these things are defined, she was not. It is precisely that she was NOT on a study-abroad program that she was able to adopt a lifestyle that seems to have led her to where she is now.

To go on a study-abroad “program” means that you attend an organized and SUPERVISED curriculum and agenda, most often with peers, faculty and/or at the very least a local administrative staff person assigned to periodically look after the participants’ behavior and well-being.

In fact the University of Washington does not even have a study abroad “program” in Perugia. It merely suggests to UW students that the Universita per Stranieri is a possible destination and place for students to go on their own, and if asked helps out with some administration.

Knox took the “non-conformist” path to study abroad. I recall reading that she did not want to go on a program so as to not follow the group, so to speak. So she did study abroad, but cheaply, and outside an organized program by the University of Washington. She was basically in Perugia on her own.

This is characteristic of at least two type of people, those who are adventurous, exploratory and want a true full-immersion experience into the cultural side of the host country (usually Italian majors), and those who want to be untethered and to have total freedom and no one to answer to so they can do as they wish.

Her casual attitude to her studies and other strong hints in her behavior and writings suggests that she was the latter type.

And presumably her biological parents understood all of this and signed off on it, even before Amanda Knox ever left Seattle.

Parents especially should know that if Knox had attended a UW-operated or US-University run study abroad program with supervision, her attendance in class would have been monitored, and any behavior that would upset roommates may have been reported.

In these programs for the most part there are strict housing rules such as no overnight guests, let alone bringing guys home to sack up with. Most of the time roommates will complain on the spot or get back to the American administrators that they have an out-of-control roommate bringing guys home, drinking excessively, or doing drugs.

In addition, programs with the proper supervision have enough of a presence to let the participants know that someone is at least checking up now and again. And as a result they watch their behavior.

Furthermore, in well-run programs, students are given significant preparation about living in the specific host country and city with pre-departure materials and perhaps meetings, talking with ex-participants, and attending an extensive multi-day orientation where staff and even local police lecture them about the many pitfalls of living in a foreign and new environment away from home.

They are reminded that the laws are different in other countries, and more importantly that there are some bad people walking the streets. They are told to enjoy themselves and learn, but also to be careful, stay alert, stay out of trouble, and so on.

I myself work in study abroad and we know what unleashed unsupervised colleges students get themselves into. We are trained to look for potential problems and we visit all students accommodations at least once per month and speak with everyone there.

We have open-door counseling and professionals with years of experience on staff. We watch out for all our students regularly… we know what behavior to look for, and when to intervene, at least most of the time.

Yes, it costs more to attend the Universita per Stranieri or any overseas university through a US-college or US-university monitored program with local on-site staff and supervision.

But the situation Amanda has created, or at least found herself in, is much less likely to happen to students on a supervised and accredited study abroad program.

Let’s face it, at the age of 20, 21, or 22, many young adults are still really more or less kids. Naive and vulnerable, especially those who have yet to explore their “wild side”, they sometimes see this as an opportunity to make up for lost time.

This is exemplified in the fact that many pass out from drinking in the days after they arrive. Bottom line, they need guidance, and no more so than when they are 8000 miles from home and on their own.

Knox took the “I am too good to go on study abroad program with fellow students” route and the cheapest way overseas.  And it is not proving so cheap anymore.

Her biological parents really should have known better. All parents should either make sure the students are mature enough, or make sure they have a structured environment that can assist them while abroad. It is well worth the extra cost and peace of mind.

So the media should please get this straight from now on.

  • Amanda Knox was NOT on a study abroad “program” while in Perugia.  She was at most “studying abroad” as that term is used very loosely.
  • She took a leave from the University of Washington to study Italian at what is essentially a glorified language school which anyone can attend.
  • She was totally unsupervised in a high-risk situation where it would have seemed obvious to any supervisor that she was looking to break away.
  • And she most likely would have had a very difficult time getting any credit for her studies from the University of Washington at the conclusion.

So. The worst possible deal for any student abroad. The parents signed off in advance.  It seems to have exploded on Knox. And poor Meredith died.


Thank you Stew for a complete explanation of what many of us knew only the bare bones of: the structure or lack of structure of Amanda Knox’s stay in Perugua.

What might have been. What might have been..

Now there are three huge questions that seem to deserve some exploration, via the Italian or American court systems if there is no other way.

1) What did the biological parents in Seattle know and what did they sign off on?

2) What did the University of Leeds and the EU Erasmus program know and what did they sign off on?

2) What did the University for Foreigners in Perugia know and what did THEY sign off on?

Poor Meredith. Apparently so very badly let down by all three in her time of real need.

The one entity that seems to come out of this quite well, contrary to some earlier takes, is the University of Washington in Seattle.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 02/24/09 at 09:01 PM | #

This is really horrific, and just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does. It looks like Curt Knox and Edda Mellas should not perhaps spend all of their worldly wealth on public relations, they may need it to fight lawsuits.

Posted by Anne on 02/24/09 at 09:50 PM | #

Yeah. There is a very funny satirical cartoon, South Park, broadcast weekly here on the Comedy Channel.

In the movie version, the kids get into terrible trouble, and so the mantra of the parents becomes “Blame Canada”

In the saga we are all now observing, some terrible trouble may have been set in motion way back there in Seattle.

We are all not meant to notice.

Especially those good trusting people who shelled out thousands of bucks at the fundraiser recently at Salty’s.

So what is the mantra in this particulr show? It’s obvious. Of course.

“Blame Italy”.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 02/24/09 at 10:28 PM | #

Thanks Stewart for a great piece that debunks yet another popular myth about the case. It makes me wonder how much research some of these journalists have done. Lazy journalism is unacceptable in a case as important as this one.

Posted by The Machine on 02/25/09 at 12:54 AM | #

Privacy rules being what they are, I doubt that the University of Washington would release information to the general public regarding the actual enrollment status of Amanda Knox during the Fall of 2007.  I think we’re left to rely on best guesses or place our trust on insider information.

But keep in mind that it would be extremely easy for an Honors Student like Knox to sign up and participate in the International Programs and Exchanges (IPE) Study Abroad Program at the University of Washington in Seattle.  Keep in mind that we have not read once, anywhere, that Knox was a student on leave from the University of Washington at the time Meredith was murdered.  Keep in mind that we have read numerous reports describing Knox as a UW student studying in Italy at the time of the murder.  Keep in mind that we know that Knox was in contact with an IPE advisor in the short time between the murder and her arrest.

All of this points to the notion that Knox was, in fact, an enrolled UW student at the time Meredith was murdered.  Consider that IPE program at the University of Washington does maintain agreements with both the University of Perugia and the University for Foreigners in Perguia. These agreements simply allow UW students to remain concurrently enrolled and active as a UW student while also enrolled in at a partner international exchange program.

I believe Knox was pariticpating in what is known as an exchange program, which is different than a more rigorous foreign study program.  As such, Knox would have retained all the rights, responsibilities, and benfits of a regularly enrolled UW student even while being enrolled in an Italian university.

Exchanges simply offer an opportunity for students of one institution to enroll in regular courses at an international partner institution. All students need to do is pay an exchange fee, which for Knox would have been similar to her regular University of Washington tuition, in exchange for a tuition-free period of study at the international partner institution.

Exchanges are different from other foriegn study programs in that they require a high degree of independence. Students have no on-site director to help with any local arrangements and are expected to organize their own housing, select their own courses, and seek to integrate themselves fully into the daily life and culture of their host countries.

If Knox was, as I suspect, an exchange student concurrently enrolled through the UW IPE she would still be earning UW resident credit (as opposed to having to transfer credit from one institution to another later on) for coursework successfully completed in the Italian school.  Grades earned abroad in this way are simply converted to the UW grade scale and do figure into a student’s overall GPA. Note that the only purpose of an advisor in an exchange program is to offer advice regarding credit approval and to help with the conversion of grades into the UW system.  Otherwise, Knox was considered an adult on her own and was only expected to enroll in a full-time load at her host institution, and to fill out a program evaluation upon her return. I wonder what Knox will say when she fills out that form?

Posted by Fly By Night on 02/25/09 at 03:12 AM | #

FBN, the position of UW would always have been pretty hands-off then, right? Seemingly if things had gone right for AK, and certainly since things went wrong? The fact that UW seems to have clammed up and looked the other way after the crime has always seemed odd, though, and perhaps there is still fear of liability. The ULeeds reaction impressed more.

Stew knows a lot about the Perugia student situation and clearly regarded Knox’s status as an exception. He talks about the more-normal preparatory briefing and monitoring available under more structured arrangements. UW parents would all know about that, right? Risks of not going that route would have been understood? There would have been a conscious decision involving the parents to go for the no-frills deal, cheapness and risks and all?

FBN, you seem to hint at less satisfaction with UW than Stew (or me in the first comment above) but that could be just my imagination. Odd, though, that a university would invoke privacy for not revealing something so basic as an enrollment.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 02/25/09 at 05:52 AM | #

I’m not really sure how to go about documenting that the University of Washington is capable of assuming a hands-off posture when it thinks its image could be enhanced by doing so but there must be some good examples out there - I’m sure it happens.

Liability in the Knox case would seem to go far beyond any potential responsibility for a 20-year-old undergraduate honor student and her family. I think the UW will eventually be forced to closely examine not only the nature of its study abroad programs and who qualifies, but also the entire undergraduate experience. Any way you slice it Knox is not good news for the institution, particulary in hard economic times.

There are two types of student Exchange programs at the University of Washington: Departmental and UW. Here is an example of a Departmental Exchange opportunity for Fall 2009. This is a little closer to what stewarthome2000 might consider a structured program. Not a whole lot more expensive, but a whole lot more accountability.

The no-frills UW Exchange that Knox was apparently involved in, on the other hand, is a completely on-your-freaking-own approach to study overseas. You fill out forms, pick your University, pay a small fee, and c-u-latr go earn your credits. Can a 20-year-old student with 2 years of college, honor student or not, really be qualified or prepared to particiapte in this kind of on-your-own half-way round the world independent study? A bunch of people obviously thought so - her parents included.

Yes, it would be a conscious decision to participate in this type of program as there are other options. And as for privacy, yes, I’d say even checking on someone’s academic credentials, much less their current enrollment status, has become a bit more involved than it used to be.

Posted by Fly By Night on 02/25/09 at 09:02 AM | #

Thank you for that FBN. Between you and Stew a truthful picture seems to be emerging here on this area of structure, the lack of.

On your “forced to closely examine” that might be good news, and perhaps one of the very few pluses to this sad affair. Good time for the responsible Seattle media to move on this one if they haven’t already (oh, of course, they haven’t).

Readers who find this area of discussion interesting may like to check out the recent Duke University lacrosse case.

All and then many and then some players were falsely accused of rape by a stripper they hired for a party (yeah, not the classiest move, but not illegal), seemingly either to shake them down for more money or to hit back because they were ticked she was so drunk she fell down in the act.

The prosecutor in that case really did try for a frame (he is out of work now) and the University and a large group of the faculty and all the local media really hung the innocent boys out to dry. Even the NY Times took the position that there ain’t any smoke without fire.

Only a lonely couple of blogs (the brilliant Durham in Wonderland in particular) sided with the boys and pressed and pressed and pressed for true justice. Which eventually did occur. Duke University is reformed some in light of widespread parent outrage the blogs helped arouse, and there will be more to come.

Durham in Wonderland (also New-York-based, out of Brooklyn) was the inspiration for this blog. And we hope that one day in Seattle we may stir parent outrage, too, for any needed changes at the University of Washington. We and the power of Meredith.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 02/25/09 at 03:36 PM | #

Amanda Knox secured an internship through her German relatives and bailed on it in the first few days.  She didn’t give notice.  She didn’t show up.  She cried to her uncle and all was well.  This is from her own words on her Myspace page.  No word on her parents reaction to this.  I can tell you that in my family there would have been swift reaction.  Indeed, it was Amanda’s little sister who helped her find a place to live in Italy on their trip.  Amanda’s parents allowed her to move to Italy without having a place to live!  Can you imagine?  Of course she felt inclined to do whatever the hell she wanted without any type of reaction.  It is how she was trained.  A spoiled child is the worst kind of adult.

Posted by Jumpy on 02/25/09 at 04:48 PM | #

HFS!  Boy, was I wrong.  I have been supporting AK’s parents in this BLOG because I thought they were stand-up people supporting their daughter out of love.  Maybe not so much.  It looks like they were driven more out of guilt for having abandoned her.  For me, this is an epiphany.  My faith in humanity has been shaken again.  Well, the scales have fallen from my eyes.  The expression, “Money can’t buy you love” appears to be true again.

Kudos to Peter and the Bloggers.  This is really good work letting the facts take us where they will.  Additionally, it looks like guilt, money, and notoriety are the driving forces behind FOAK.

Posted by Arnold_Layne on 02/26/09 at 08:58 PM | #

Second report from the AGI agency says the investigators will give evidence on:

1. What they found about the use of drugs by AK and RS.

2. Telephone records, including the switching off of phones. Plus the landline in RS’s apartment

3. The search of RS’s apartment where the knife was found (with DNA traces).

4. Meredith’s route on the night of the murder, including timings and CCTV images

Posted by Kevin on 02/26/09 at 09:17 PM | #

Thanks a lot, Kevin. We could use your Italian-language skills here. Nicki, who is based in Milan, will have up her usual post tonight on the trial agenda.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 02/26/09 at 09:45 PM | #

That’s all right, Arnold, that’s all right! I have felt a sneaking sympathy for all of the players at one time or other in the past.

Yes, it does seem that the quality of the parenting Amanda Knox received might not have exactly been Gold Standard.

The biological parents split apart apparently after many rows when Amanda was still only a tot. That cannot have helped the psychology,

It is rumored that the father may several times have defaulted on his child support payments. That cannot have helped the psychology.

Amanda in her diary remarked that her stepfather called her “obtuse retard” and implied a real dislike. That cannot have helped the psychology.

Now if the mantra becomes “Blame Seattle” rather than “Blame Italy,” or at least blame a subset of Seattle, we may learn very much more.

There may be many in Seattle who perceived some odd psychology. Right now, they are clamming up, because lawsuits may fly and they might be liable.

Here’s a thought. If you spend say half a million in PR fees to head off say $20 million in court awards, would you consider you’d come out ahead?

PR rules, under that math. If the lawsuits are actually averted. On his bad days, of course, David Marriott must wonder if he will get tangled up too.

All of the above is available on Powerpoint for…  the next presentation at Salty’s!!

Posted by Peter Quennell on 02/26/09 at 10:31 PM | #

New poster here, but hear me out before judging the fact that I’ve lived in Seattle my whole life, ok? One small comment about the ‘Dub’ & how they view crimes on their campus &/or Greek Row, hush, hush & it’ll go away quietly. This style has served them well for many decades & will continue for the forseable future.

Posted by tjcchamp on 02/27/09 at 05:59 PM | #

Welcome here tjccamp and thanks for being supportive of Meredith. We really appreciate reading any insights from Seattle, and yours is a good one.

We have at least one post coming up to introduce readers elsewhere to Seattle as an attractive, smart city, which is not being very well-served by its strangely shrinking media there…. What CAN they have got wrong?!

Actually we’ve noted in comments on several Seattle websites (the UW student newspaper among them) words to the effect that you can read here on TJMK “what the Seattle media doesn’t want you to know”.

Maybe that is what they got wrong. Suppression of news.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 02/27/09 at 08:24 PM | #

Thanks Peter, you can call me Tim.
I am a ‘homie’ but not when it comes to crimes; if you’ve heard of Gary Ridgway(Green River Killer, 48 confirmed) or Ted Bundy.
I’ve been following this story for a long time & yes, I only got bits & pieces & wanted to believe AK was being railroaded, it now appears not to be the case.
I do know that Meredith did not deserve anything that she got & that is my only concern about justice right now. All the misinformation that I got about the prosecutor & his crazy theory was wrong & I’m starting to see what he really believed that makes more sense.
Not all of us drink Starbucks & whatever else our stereotype is around the world & many of us want justice for victims.
I’m a law & order type guy, not the Bonny & Clyde type(root for the criminal).
I’ll post more later, but some of the things that I wanted to say earlier I now see were wrong. One thing that I know about lawyering up is that the two did not, which is strange. The innocent don’t & the guilty do right away. They are either dumb or too smart for the police, I guess.?

Posted by tjcchamp on 02/27/09 at 10:25 PM | #

Peter, re your first comment, you asked

2) What did the University of Leeds and the EU Erasmus program know and what did they sign off on?

3) What did the University for Foreigners in Perugia know and what did THEY sign off on?

Just thought I would share my experiences as I studied in Italy as part of the ERASMUS program in 2006 (which is the reason why this case affected me so much) I have to say that Amanda’s situation was not terribly different from my own in Italy, even though I was part of an accredited program which was offered as part of my four year italian degree at uni.

We were offered a 3 week intensive language course before moving to Italy, but this was not compulsory. It was up to me to find my own accommodation- I was organised and visited Pisa beforehand to find an apartment, but most of my friends just turned up and stayed in hostels until they found something- it was certainly very hard to organise something from overseas (in fact, it was decidedly difficult to do it on the ground!) I’m fairly certain there were no dedicated foreign student apartments in Pisa, nobody i knew lived in one anyway.

There was an Erasmus society in Pisa, but participation was very much optional and it was a social thing rather than a supervisory body- they didn’t check up on you. The onus was on me to enrol in classes and exams, and when it came to lectures, most of the time the tutor wouldn’t know if you were there or not (at least in my lectures there was no register and class sizes were large.) You had to make sure you passed the exams, but as many exams in Italy are oral, a lot of the time the examiner would take pity on you and just give you a pass. Certainly nobody at the uni would have contacted my home uni if I skipped classes (which I sometimes did and one chap from my uni didn’t go to a single class but didn’t get pulled up on it) and I can’t imagine that anybody would have contacted my uni unless I was in serious trouble with the police.

Obviously some of this lack of support and supervision would be to do with my home university (which was not Leeds, but I would prefer not to name it here because it paints a negative picture and the uni was great for other reasons which are irrelevant here.) I should add though that I lived in a house with 5 other ERASMUS students all from different countries and from what they told me, their experience was the same- the year abroad was almost entirely self-directed.

I am sure that some study abroad or exchange programs are very structured, but my experience as part of ERASMUS was certainly not.

Even though I would not defend Kurt and Edda in most things (and would most likely be asking them some exasperated questions) I don’t feel that in this situation they should be criticised. If the no-frills exchange program was the only one that AK could afford then what were they supposed to do, just not let her go? From what FBN says above, it looks as though it was still technically attached to UW and she would have got credit for it from UW? Therefore exactly the same as the scheme run by my uni and all of our parents were happy for us to go! Hundreds of kids go off to other countries on just the same kind of unstructured course that I did and get on just fine (and in fact, i certainly developed a great deal of independence during that year.) Hundreds of kids rock up in a foreign country with nowhere to live and doss in a hostel until they can find a grotty little flat to share and that’s part of the fun! I certainly can’t blame the parents for letting her go, because my parents were in the same situation and let me go, and it was the same for all of my friends on my course at uni, and the majority of the friends I made in Italy.

Having said that though, they should have understood their daughter enough to know that she was unstable, they should have brought her up better, they should have done loads of things differently. I wish they had :(


Posted by janeelisabeth on 05/05/11 at 09:47 PM | #

Jane, sharing like you my experience as a French Erasmus student 1995 in Darmstadt, Germany. It’s long ago ; I had not much supervision either, but I did have a place where to stay before going.

We were 3 students who had applied and were selected by my university. We had a mandatory course in German before moving there, then a mandatory 2-weeks course with fellow Erasmus students when we got there.

Our University made sure to find a room for each of us before we went, in the German students’  shared apartments. One of us declined it and prefered to use his family connections to look for a place. We contacted by phone the German students we would live with, and they arranged to meet us when we arrived, and to show us where was the University and where to eat.

We met then our Erasmus tutor, who was a teacher at the University. He helped us choose classes for each semester, and he told us to come to him if in need. I don’t remember we did. Attendance was not monitored any more than in my French University. The exams were exactly like you described : to pass was mandatory, the exam was oral and always with some pity from the examiner. They wouldn’t give the top grade easily though.

I don’t think my University ever got updates about what I was up to, even grades. Studying or not was up to me. But then, it was exactly the same at home, and by being able to reach the 4th level of our University with absolutely no supervision, and all freedom given to explore our wild sides (no study abroad for the first 3 years/levels), we had shown already that we were able to take care of ourselves.

Perhaps by college fees being something American parents put money aside for, there is a greater incentive for US students not to lose any time not behaving at home. In France, the expensive thing about studying is accomodation, the fees are pretty low. Most of the students never pass the first 2 years and end up dropping out, because with the partying and the skipping of classes there’s no way they learn anything. It’s pretty cool for serious students, because there is far less overcrowding than the number of inscribed students would let you fear.

Getting in trouble with the law was absolutely not expected of us ; I think we were warned that were it to happen, the Erasmus program at our University would be terminated (and I guess we would have had to apply to another University back home). We were told to give a good image of French students and to enjoy our stay.

Meredith certainly gave a very good image of English students.

Ms Knox didn’t.

I wonder if her University and her hometown have felt appropriate to appologize to Meredith’s parents, or at the very least have publicly acknowledged their grief ? Is there any Meredith memorial planned in Seattle ? There should be.

Posted by Sylviane on 05/06/11 at 03:42 PM | #
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