Course aims to help students unpack study abroad experiences

by Harrison Aronoff | 3/1/18 2:15am

College Course 21, “What’s in Your Shoebox?” — a new course being offered next term — will allow international students and those who have completed a foreign study program to reflect on their experiences abroad and increase their intercultural sensitivity.

The course, listed under the interdisciplinary “College Course” department, is designed to allow students to “come together and spend 10 weeks [in the spring term] unpacking and reflecting upon their study aboard experiences,” said Francine A’Ness, associate director and assistant research professor at the Frank J. Guarini Institute for International Education, who is one of the course’s two teachers.

According to the course’s syllabus, the course name is derived from cultural anthropologist Bruce La Brack’s conception of “shoeboxing,” or compartmentalizing experiences from time spent abroad.

Seventeen students have signed up for the “experimental” course so far. Students must have either studied abroad for credit during 2017 or 2018 or be an international student to enroll.

A’Ness designed COCO 21 this past fall with co-instructor Prudence Merton, associate director for faculty programs and assessment at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning. They submitted their proposal in November, and it was approved earlier this winter.

According to the course’s syllabus, the class is structured as a seminar. One of the course’s goals is to encourage students to reflect upon and learn from their recent study abroad experiences.

Students will engage in a variety of activities, including keeping a daily reflection journal, writing letters to themselves, drafting reflection papers, applying for fellowships and creating a documentary about their international experiences that will be screened at the Loew Auditorium in the Black Family Visual Arts Center, among other activities.

Merton sees herself engaging heavily with helping develop these reflective activities.

“One of my research areas is metacognition, so I see my role is to support that aspect of the course, to come up with new ideas asking all of us to reflect on our experience,” Merton said.

The other purpose of the course is to take the “skills, knowledge and awareness that students have gained from their international experiences and find ways to apply that,” A’Ness said.

One way in which students will apply their learning, according to A’Ness, is through civic engagement. Students will partner with Dothan Brook School in Hartford, Vermont to help plan and execute its World Culture Fair on May 4. The fair, which will debut this year, is designed to educate elementary school students about international experiences and other cultures.

“We’re trying to bring the world to our students in Vermont,” said Lanni West, fourth grade teacher and World Culture Fair chair at Dothan Brook School. “We are hoping all the [COCO 21 students] will partake in some form … and introduce to our students the culture which they experienced during their trip.”

If they find the course to be successful, A’Ness and Merton hope to offer it twice more, three times being the maximum number a College Course can be taught, A’Ness said. Afterwards, they hope COCO 21 will be assigned to an academic department so they can teach the course regularly, though they currently do not have a specific department in mind.

Katie Goldstein ’20, who is enrolled in the course and participated in the Spanish Foreign Study Program in Madrid last fall, said she was interested in taking COCO 21 because she felt her experience studying abroad was different than that of the ’19s she was abroad with. She said that she was excited for the class and looked forward to working with A’Ness and Merton.

Dennis Washburn, associate dean for international studies and interdisciplinary programs and chair of the Interdisciplinary Programs Committee, could not be reached for comment.