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Study away courses offer opportunity and knowledge

Posted on Nov 18, 2011
Study away courses lasting one to four weeks offer learning opportunities for students who can't spend a semester or more overseas.

By Elizabeth Reichert
University Relations student writer

For some students, traditional study away programs are out of reach - they cost too much, they don't fit degree requirements, or they take too much time away from the academic year. For those students, faculty-led study away classes are the perfect opportunity to study abroad in an affordable, timely, and practical manner.

"We feel we have something to offer everyone - to fit their budget, time schedule, and major and minor requirements," said Cherie Sawinski, interim director of the office of international programs.

Dr. Marshall Johnson, professor of sociology, agreed. "The kind of students who we exist for desire this broad liberal arts education that is usually out of reach. Our central mission is to provide that education to students who couldn't otherwise afford it. That's where the short-term programs come in," he said.

More study away courses
Over the years, UW-Superior has increased the accessibility of studying away through short, faculty-led study away classes.

These classes are not new to UW-Superior, but the variety is growing each year.

Dr. Edward Burkett of the biology program led a class in the early 1990s to Mexico and Belize to study coral reefs. In the early 2000s, two more classes went out - one to study the aftermath of the war in Bosnia and another to examine current issues in China.

Since then, the number of faculty-led study abroad classes has increased rapidly. In the coming year, approximately seven classes will go out, and another five are in development.  

New courses
Two of the newer classes are Johnson's "Bali: Amnesia and Heritage" and Dr. Virginia Donovan's "History of Paris." This is the first time Johnson is taking a class to Bali, while Donovan, assistant professor of French, has taken a class to Paris twice before.

Bali -- tradition and change
Johnson and 10 students will spend four weeks on the Indonesian island of Bali in January 2012. They will experience Balinese culture by planting rice, living with local residents, learning traditional dance and art forms, and interviewing people. They also will examine a critical question facing the Balinese.

The Bali people organize their social relations around a 210-day year and have a radically different way of thinking about the world, Johnson said.

"Every act is an offering to the gods, their ancestors, and the people yet to come," Johnson said. "There's tremendous emphasis on music, dance, woodcarving, and drama, but it's not art. It's considered a way to show honor."

Culture versus tourism
Now that the Bali people have entered into the global system where money is important, they have decided to rely on cultural tourism. Johnson's experiences and observations from working in Bali led him to formulate a question for his class: Can the Bali people maintain their true cultural identity and social system while relying on cultural tourism to make a living?

Students will explore the question during their time in Bali and write a paper afterward returning to campus. They will use their on-campus class to acquire background knowledge about Bali, its culture, and what the students will study in the country.

Angela Castellini, a double major in psychology and sociology from Duluth, said the on-campus class would be beneficial even if she weren't going abroad. "It is a good opportunity to get a look at a culture that I have no clue about," she said.  

Getting first-hand information
Castellini hopes to gain background information and be as prepared as possible for Bali before she enters the country.

"I want to get an accurate portrayal," she said. "We're exposed to a lot of misinformation through the media, so having these types of classes can help us learn about another culture instead of having those society-induced stereotypes."

France -- 'being a Parisian'
Donovan and four students spent two weeks in Paris last May. They lived in rented furnished apartments in the heart of Paris, only four blocks from the famed Louvre museum. Students bought food from local markets, traveled by subway and train, and walked to many of the city's historical sites.

"We want to get as close as possible to the experience of being a Parisian," said Donovan.

The class visited the historic Chateau de Chambord, the Eiffel Tower, the Joan of Arc statue, Versailles, and more museums than they could count.

Preparing on campus
During the Spring 2011 semester, these students took an on-campus class, the History of Paris. They learned about the city through lecture, pictures, and conversations. Once in Paris, the students connected the information from the on-campus portion of the class to the reality.

"What we've learned, we're going to see," said Stepan Ianchuk, a double major in Theatre and Individualized German from Kyiv, Ukraine. "What you learn without seeing, it's not pointless, but you're learning about things you'll never see. You don't know the whole story."

Jessica Johnson, a double major in music instrumental education and elementary education from Duluth, also felt that the two portions of the class connected flawlessly. "It was a little bit of recap plus a little bit of fun," she said.  

Beyond the classroom
Faculty and students agree short-term study abroad classes offer opportunities to learn about themselves, to thoroughly investigate a subject, and to expand a cultural worldview.

"The personal experience of being there gives the student a transformative multi-cultural experience that broadens their perspective and adds a unique richness to their life," Donovan said. "It adds height, and depth and breadth that is impossible (to provide) in a classroom."

"The main thing about these study abroad classes is not so much what you learn and retain from where you go, but what you learn about your culture," Johnson said.

'More possibilities for learning'
"I think it will offer more possibilities for learning, especially with being able to go on a trip with someone how has lived in Bali," said Nick Fratzke, a business major from Orr, Minn.,who is in the Bali class. "It gives students the opportunity to see and do more while not having to worry so much about the planning process and letting the professor take care of the itinerary."

Students who participate in the classes learn about different cultures, but even those who don't go can gain some of that knowledge.

"I think it (a faculty-led study abroad class) gives students a great appreciation for cultures, but it allows the faculty to bring back bits and pieces of those cultures," Castellini said. "Students can come and go, but teachers typically stay for a long time. Faculty can keep information about that culture going."       

News Contact: Al Miller | 715-394-8260 | amiller{atuws}
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