Students reflect on their experiences abroad

by Mika Jehoon Lee | 8/13/17 8:20pm

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This article was featured in the 2017 Freshman Issue.

From observing the Southern hemisphere’s night sky in South Africa to cultivating a deeper understanding of Chinese culture in Beijing, over 55 percent of Dartmouth students participate in an off-campus program before they graduate.

Every year, the College provides various opportunities for students to take their education outside of the classroom and beyond Hanover. A center for these academic off-campus programs is the Frank J. Guarini Institute for International Education, which supports language study abroad, foreign study programs and exchange programs.

Participants in most LSAs travel to a foreign country and live with local families for a term. While abroad, students study the country’s language, culture and literature all in that country’s language with Dartmouth faculty and local instructors. The Guarini Institute also funds LSA+ programs, which are designed for students who have already fulfilled the language requirement. Languages studied in LSA and LSA+ programs include Chinese, German, Italian, Spanish, French and Arabic.

For Kevin Ryu ’18, living with a local family as part of the LSA+ program in Tokyo allowed him to apply the Japanese language skills he learned at the College to real-life situations outside the classroom.

“I wanted to test how much I’ve grown over the past year and see if I could spend an entire term in a foreign country,” Ryu said. “Being able to have an entire family to practice my Japanese with everyday really helped improve my language skills.”

After spending his sophomore summer in Tokyo on the Japanese LSA+, Ryu said his desire to “give back to the next generation of students” prompted him to participate in the same program again as a teaching assistant the next summer.

Some language departments also offer FSPs, which allow greater exposure to the host country’s history, culture and literature.

For example, Rachel Martin ’19 travelled to Madrid, Spain as part of the Spanish FSP this past fall. In addition to taking classes at the University of Madrid, Martin said she enjoyed going on group excursions to historic and artistic monuments in Barcelona and northern regions of Spain.

Non-language departments also organize FSPs and domestic study programs conducted primarily in English. Participants can study various disciplines overseas, taking advantage of unique resources available in a foreign country or at an off-campus location in the United States. Examples of current programs include the Government FSP in London, the Film Studies DSP in Los Angeles and the Music FSP in Vienna.

According to the Guarini Institute’s executive director John Tansey MALS’95, there will be a combined 46 LSA, LSA+, FSP and DSP programs and 29 exchange programs during in the 2017 academic year.

Off-campus programs are not limited to the select programs organized by the College’s academic departments. The Dickey Center for International Understanding also funds international internships, fellowships and research opportunities in “focus areas” such as the environment, human development and security.

Student programs manager at the Dickey Center Casey Aldrich said the Center funds from 80 to 100 student interns who choose to work in around 35 different countries. The interns range from students who have never travelled overseas to those who have had plenty of international experience, Aldrich added.

Aldrich said internships in general allow students a hands-on experience in topics they learn in the classroom. Furthermore, students wanting to add an international dimension to their internship can benefit from gaining a cross-cultural experience, she added.

“[Participating in an international internship] is an opportunity for students to not only explore these topics of their interest, but also learn more about themselves in another region of the world,” Aldrich said.

Every year, the College offers a few “course-embedded programs,” which are academic courses taken on campus that involve an off-campus trip, typically after the course is completed. In the 2016 winter interim, students in Anthropology 70, “Experiencing Human Origins and Evolution” and Biology 70, “Biologic Lessons of the Eye,” went to South Africa and India, respectively.

For Rachel Van Gelder ’18, writing a research proposal while taking Biology 70 at Dartmouth and then presenting it at a conference in India was especially an unique experience.

“It was cool because it was something that you rarely get the opportunity to do in other biology classes,” Van Gelder said.

Another program that takes students abroad is Project Preservation, which meets during the spring term and travels abroad during the spring-summer interim. During the trip, Dartmouth Hillel takes a broad range of students from different backgrounds to Eastern Europe to restore a desolate Jewish cemetery. The Dickey Center, Dartmouth Hillel, the Tucker Foundation and the College support Project Preservation.

After studying genocide and the Holocaust every week with Rabbi Boraz and around fifteen other students during her freshman spring, Martin went to Poland and Auschwitz with her peers that summer. She said visiting Auschwitz and seeing in real-life how small the concentration camp was made the trip an emotional experience. Martin said she also helped restore an abandoned Jewish cemetery during the trip.

Martin emphasized how important it was go outside the United States and meet local people who have undergone experiences that students usually read about in the classroom.

“Meeting other people from other places who have actually had those experiences and could share stories about whatever you are learning makes it much more impactful and memorable,” Martin said.

Additionally, the College provides many service opportunities abroad.

For Sydney Kamen ’19, her trip to the Siuna region of Nicaragua to provide medical facilities and care was a transformative experience. Kamen said the trip exposed her to a variety of cultures and life experiences that she had previously been unaware of. This exposure changed how she approached other courses on international development and stimulated her interest in taking more classes on Latin America, she added.

Kamen urges the incoming class to be open to trying new things and emphasized the importance of “complicating your perspective, your experience and where you fit in the world.”