Posts Tagged 'Current Study Abroad issues'

The return of the “Grand Tour”: art students studying abroad

An issue we think about a lot here at Gulliver is increasing Study Abroad participation among students in majors/programs that traditionally make it hard for them to go abroad.  The most notable examples come from the sciences – engineering, physics, etc. – in which the coursework is so specific and extensive that credit-transfer is often complicated.  But another, less well-known, area of study for which this is often a problem is the fine arts.  BFA candidates also often struggle to find courses abroad that are comparable to those they get at their home institutions.  And that’s a problem particularly near and dear to my own heart – I’ve got a background in art history and many artist friends, and too many of them never studied abroad.

For that reason I was really pleased to see this Artdaily article this morning on the new Study Abroad program at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University.  

Grand Tour

Grand Tour

In a program reminiscent of the artistic and/or touristic “Grand Tours” of the 18th and 19th centuries, AAU students spent a semester in Corciono, Italy participating in an ” intense curriculum of on-site, plein-air painting.”  There’s now a show up in San Francisco of the work produced during the program.  AAU is taking the lead in making Study Abroad a priority among fine art undergraduates – I hope their model is quickly implemented elsewhere.

Organic vs. planned “cultural experiences”

Hey guys! My name is Andy, and I’m a member of the Gulliver team. My contributions to the Gulliver blog are mainly going to be about my own experiences studying and working abroad, and my thoughts on current issues in international education. I graduated from Stanford in June, 2008. During my junior year I had some of the best months of my life studying abroad in Florence, Italy with New York University. And just after graduating from Stanford, I spent two months working/volunteering on a small island just off the north coast of Papua New Guinea – quite a different and absolutely amazing experience.

Anyway, the other day I came across this article that I think is worth discussing. The basic gist is that study abroad, along with community service and internships, concretely increases one’s learning capacity and even maturity. Specifically, the article praises programs that stress immersion into a different culture.

The part of the article I loved was its point about students rethinking assumptions and maturing as learners. The Director of the Rome program office at the University of Dallas’ statement that “You can look around campus and tell who’s been to Rome just by the maturity with which they carry themselves,” definitely touches on something significant. After coming back from abroad, I definitely felt a swagger. And it seems like most people who return from abroad come back with a certain swagger. While the whole rethinking assumptions and maturing as learners things seems like a clichéd talking point, the truth is that it’s hard to live in a foreign, unfamiliar place for an extended period of time and not start to rethink assumptions.

There was, however, one issue mentioned in the article with which I disagree. To say that certain study-abroad programs stand out from the pack because of their required immersion rules is misleading for a couple of reasons.

First, a student who is motivated to immerse him/herself into a different culture will self-select into these programs, or if he/she goes on a program that does not require such immersion, will immerse him/herself into the culture anyway. In other words, it’s the students who make the effort that “stand out from the pack,” not the programs those students go on.

Second, I would be wary of a general rule along the lines of “the more required ‘cultural experiences,’ the better.” For one thing, many of these “immersive” experiences can be tacky, forced, and no more “authentic” than a trip to Disney world. For example, I remember one of the few planned immersion experiences at NYU was a trip to a local university to meet students. We entered the courtyard as a large class, and while we all tried to talk to people, our interactions felt a bit forced and contrived.

In addition, one of the amazing things about being abroad is the freedom – it is really the first time in many students’ lives where they can feel great freedom and self-efficacy. Indeed, while many leave home to go away to college, being away in not only a different city, but a different country with different people, different laws, and a different history really gets that independence feeling going. Programs that define and manage too carefully the scope and form of their students’ cultural experiences can inhibit this freedom and the growth and learning that comes with it. Immersing oneself in another culture is an amazing thing to do, but I feel that it only holds true meaning if it is done naturally, at one’s own pace and directive.

I think that the overall point to take away from this is that study abroad gives you experience, and that is really the key to rethinking our assumptions and becoming mature learners. We all have biases, opinions, and expectations, and it is rare those biases, opinions, and expectations ever really change solely through reading, conversation, or video. The reality is true changes occur only through experience (by the way this is a tenet of Zen), and whether you want to conceive of it like this or not, going abroad is forcing yourself to experience something significantly different. So be prepared for that swagger.

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Gulliver helps students Study Abroad. Our blog covers: current issues in Study Abroad; featured posts by Study Abroad students; and Gulliver updates, news, and behind-the-scenes peaks. Thanks for reading!