The Value Gained through Student Participation in Study Abroad Programs
Instructor of Urban Planning
It is truly amazing what can be learned about the rest of the world because of television and the internet. More than ever, the people of our planet can be connected in more ways than we could have imagined even ten years ago. However, when we watch a video on YouTube, while we can learn a great deal about another country or culture, we are only learning someone else’s interpretation. We are not drawing our own conclusions about the world.
I encourage everyone to get out in the world and discover for themselves. Gain first-hand knowledge of other people and places, and do not solely rely on others to teach you. This is especially important while you are young and mobile; which is why study abroad is such an important and amazing opportunity. Study abroad opportunities are cost-efficient, organized, and take much of the guess-work out of trip planning because you’re going with an experienced faculty member.
Travel makes you, as an individual, a better person. It can be inspiring, enlightening, and humbling to embed yourself in another society for a while. It is also empowering to see how you can navigate through a place where perhaps no one speaks your language but still get around just fine. When you “don’t speak the language,” it is quite thrilling to experience how much you can still connect with other people and be understood. It demonstrates the commonality of all humanity.
It is more important than ever that we learn from other cultures and become more educated and tolerant citizens of the planet. Travelling abroad is a wonderful opportunity to see how other countries operate and why. We can then bring that knowledge back to our home country and use it to make ourselves better. In a nation as generally affluent as the US, those who can travel have an obligation to do so, because we can apply what we learn from the rest of the world to help those who are less-fortunate back home. As travel writer and PBS show host Rick Steves write in his book, Travel as a Political Act, “Travel connects people with people. It helps us fit more comfortably and compatibly into a shrinking world, and it inspires creative new solutions to persistent problems facing our nation. We can't understand our world without experiencing it.”
I lead study abroad programs to provide opportunities for students to learn from other cultures and become better citizens of the planet. I grew up in a family that did not value other countries or cultures and was led to believe I could not participate in study abroad opportunities because we couldn’t afford it. I didn’t know any better until I got older and realized how easily we could have afforded it and that I should have been more persistent. I wanted to see the world so much and allowed others to stop me. It is my biggest regret from my college years. I want others to experience what I did not get to, at a time in their life when their burdens are fewer and they can apply what they learn to their life from a much earlier age. The students will benefit from the knowledge they gain and carry it with them the rest of their life, but also, our entire country will benefit from having more informed and tolerant residents, as well.
Dean of Honors College
An engaging, bold study abroad experience can change a life. I know; it happened to me. As a graduate student I was gifted a singular opportunity—two weeks of independent exploration in Germany. In those weeks I learned to fly—literally and figuratively. I learned to navigate new customs and assumptions, diverse mass transit, and even the unexpected cancellation. But most importantly, I learned the value of exploring, seeking access, and taking advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves. In the several study abroad experiences that I have led as a faculty member I strive to offer those same opportunities for my Honors College students. I want them to discover the impact and value of taking a risk---bicycling through the Aran Isles along thatched roof artisans’ homes; meeting veterans from both sides of the Belfast wall; navigating an emphatically non-English café owner. By experiencing intercultural issues around the world, they will be more aware and better informed agents of change in their home communities. I know; it’s still happening for me with every trip.
Dr. Lisa Kuriscak
Assistant Professor of Spanish
Teaching students abroad is one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences that I have found in academia. Some of the difficulty taps into exactly what I ask of my students: Adaptability. Teaching abroad takes planning and adaptation to another level and is never the same from one summer to another. Every time I get excited to see Spain through my students’ eyes, and I encourage them to navigate their experience with a simple mantra: Open your mind and open your heart. Flexibility and openness to new experiences will open doors for you – both in Spain and in yourself.
Travel at any point in one’s life is a positive experience, and especially as a college student—to have the opportunity to live with a local family and to experience the culture “from the inside out.” Living with a family means that students observe and participate in another way of life in a much more “real” way than if they were just traveling on their own, staying at hotels or hostels, etc.
I would like my students to stretch themselves outside of their comfort zones, to learn to interact well with those of another language-culture background, to appreciate sociocultural nuances, and to be better local and world citizens. To help foster this development, in my classes abroad I craft tasks to help students launch themselves into the community—to talk to locals and see that they are indeed capable of getting their point across, understanding native speakers, and forming friendships in another language and culture. I’d also like them to see that it’s fine to be nervous or anxious and that such feelings shouldn’t stop them from taking the leap to get to know locals. I like for there to be application of the concepts reviewed in class so that students can see the connection between the classroom and life outside—to watch discourse pragmatic concepts, for example, “come to life” in real time such that what happens in class informs what happens outside of class and vice versa. I offer support, guidance, and encouragement, but I’d like my students to come away from the experience with the satisfaction of an “I did it!” song playing in their heads (as one former student told me). There is powerful agency that comes from such an experience—from not spending all of one’s time with other program participants but rather investing in local friendships, and from actively seeking out linguistic and cultural experiences that will broaden their horizons. Doing so allows them to go deeper in their cultural understanding, to get to know themselves on another level, to become better communicators, and to understand from another angle their own country and its place on the world stage. Leaving the “fishbowl” of the U.S. and jumping into the fishbowl of another country is an incredible growth opportunity— to learn in an even more engaging manner, to broaden one’s mindset, to make friends abroad, to gain in confidence and independence, and to be changed linguistically, culturally, and personally.
Assistant Professor of Honors Humanities
This spring marks the sixth time I have accompanied Honors students to Italy. Viewing the Roman Forum from the Tabularium, visiting my favorite sculptures in the Capitoline Museums, and gazing upward through the oculus of the Pantheon is thrilling every time, but watching the students grow from the study abroad experience is the most exciting part of these field studies.
Before board the plane to Italy, students are asked to spend a great deal of time reading about the cities we will visit. We look at maps and examine works of art by artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, Caravaggio, and Brunelleschi, but even this does not fully prepare them for personal interaction with the paintings, sculptures, and buildings created by these artists. Watching these encounters is the best part of each trip. On one such trip to the Roman Forum a couple of years ago, I found myself sitting on a bit of broken column next to a student who gazed up at the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. “How does all of this make you feel?” I asked her. “Very young and very small,” she said. She smiled. The architecture of the Forum was a grand statement of the venerable power of the Republic, and the student understood this concept perfectly.
Just as important as the planned excursions are the “found” moments we stumble upon during our visits. During one stay in Florence, a group of students and I sat next to the organist as he performed during Mass in the beautiful Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiori. Our most recent trip to Rome found us in Santa Maria del Popolo listening to a live performance of Handel’s Messiah. One student, fascinated with modern and contemporary art, led me to Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi where we wandered through a traveling exhibition of Modern, Conceptual, and Postmodern art. The joy of viewing the work of Rothko and Pollack just a few steps away from the famous Renaissance works of Ghiberti and Donatello is hard to overstate.
As part of the field study, students locate sites they wish to see, and they explore destinations that are outside of the class itinerary. During our most recent study, students visited an ancient “landfill,” which was really a hill created by thousands of broken amphorae the ancients had discarded. A love of roses has led groups to some of the most beautiful rose gardens in the city. Other students have located and explored out-of-the-way piazzas and local festivals.
Each visit to Rome changes me as a person and a scholar. My understanding of geography, art, and history expands, altering my worldview. I try to provide the same life-changing experience to my field study students.