|The College has big
plans to send more students packing. New study-abroad
and foreign language programs aim to give every
undergrad a chance to trek.
|by Charlotte Snow
When she decided to spend her junior year abroad at the London
School of Economics, Heather Lowe, AB97, had every intention
of applying her lessons stateside. But after studying the European
Union, the Law, Letters, & Society major delayed her graduation
to learn Frenchin Franceso she could accept a Brussels,
Belgiumbased European Parliament internship. When the internship
ended this past September, Lowe was asked to stay on as an assistant
to British representative Robert Sturdy.
Studying abroad has shaped everything I have done since I
stepped off the plane at Heathrow, says Lowe, via e-mail from
her Brussels post. Studying at an excellent institution with
people from all over the globe, working in a London shop, living
on a farm in a tiny village in France, meeting many of the dignitaries
I had studied and the authors who wrote about them in Brusselsthis
is what education and life is all about, gaining everything you
can from any experience.
Lowes is exactly the spirit University administrators hope
new study-abroad and foreign-language initiatives will foster among
students in the College. In the past five years, the number of undergraduates
studying abroad has grown from 46 to more than 180, and Dean of
the College John W. Boyer, AM69, PhD75, wants that number
to keep growing. He has recently stepped up efforts to promote his
twin goals of seeing every undergraduate spend at least one quarter
abroad and at least a third of each graduating class attain fluency
in a foreign language.
Given changes in the undergraduate curriculum that will allow students
to take more electives, Boyer expressed confidence in his 1998 annual
report to the College faculty that these goals can be reached. Perhaps
one of the most important innovations to come forth from the [curricular]
review, he noted, was a refocusing and expansion of
our efforts on second-language education and international education,
and, indeed, the conviction that we should view both of these areas
as closely and even inextricably linked. Cross-cultural and second-language
education are intellectual and instructional domains where I personally
believe we can properly and justifiably encourage our students to
use some of their additional free elective space with considerable
Boyer has translated this belief into an expanding crop of international
options for College students. Already on the map are programs in
some 20 foreign cities. This academic year the College is launching
more in Toledo, Spain; Rome; Athens, Greece; Dublin, Ireland; Cologne,
Germany; and Tanzania, with plans to debut additional ones in Vienna,
Austria, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Undergraduates are also heading
to destinations as far afield as China, Siberia, Bosnia, and India
via research fellowships or placements arranged by individual faculty
on campus, a $1.3-million grant from the Mellon Foundation will
help support, over the next five years, the hiring of specialists
in German, Russian, and either Chinese or Japanese; the renovation
of the campus language laboratory; the creation of new language
learning centers in residence halls; and the funding of new language
curriculum grants. By the end of this winter quarter, the College
expects to have completed a nationwide search for a new associate
dean for international and second-language education, who will oversee
all related initiatives on and off campus. And for six weeks this
summer, the College will host an intensive, Middlebury-style residential
language camp in French and Spanish.
These initiatives will complement whats being offered
already, says Nadine Di Vito, director of language programs
in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. Were
taking steps in the direction of showing students to what extent
language and cultural identity are intimately connected and allowing
them to take advantage of more programs that fit their life aspirations.
Historically, the College has not been so enthusiastic in promoting
an international flair among its students. Rather, says Lewis Fortner,
associate dean of students in the College and director of undergraduate
foreign & domestic studies, the College has considered its own
soil the best seeding ground. While individual students have always
found ways to travel, work, and study abroad, and have successfully
petitioned for transfer credit upon their return, he says, it was
not until the mid-1980s, under Donald Levine, AB50, AM54,
PhD57, as dean of the College, and Herman Sinaiko, AB47,
PhD61, as dean of students, that a formalized approach developed.
In the 198384 academic year, the College set up official study-abroad
programs and made financial aid available to all participants. Since
then, Fortner says, support for foreign study has gone from
lukewarm to moderate to energetic.
Fortner attributes the invigorated efforts to several factors.
He says the idea of going abroad is more acceptable to todays
faculty, many more of whom studied abroad as undergraduates themselves.
Practically, a strong economy has helped students pay for travel
overseas, while the business worlds increased emphasis on
global transactions and communications makes the prospect of such
study attractive to more students. For the foreseeable future, Fortner
says, the College will remain intent on preparing students to live
and work in a shrinking world.
Foreign study is valuable on many levels, Fortner
explains. It gives students a larger view of the world and
of Americas place in the world. A serious work or study experience
abroad represents a potent professional or academic credential down
the road. At a deeper level, its benefits are more personal: a wider
understanding of cultures and peoples and of oneself as a citizen
of the world.
Chicago undergraduates can earn a ticket to this understanding
in several ways. They can cross borders to fulfill their civilization-studies
requirements, work toward a special language certificate, apply
a language-study grant awarded by the College, immerse themselves
in a different culture, or work for an international organization.
Regardless of the route chosen, students typically remain registered
in the College, pay regular College tuition plus a small administrative
fee, retain their eligibility for financial aid, and receive full
credit for their work. All programseven those requiring competency
in a foreign languageare open to all students in all majors,
though those lasting a year are geared to third- and fourth-years.
They may be organized and staffed by Chicago alone or through partnerships
with foreign universities or with the two higher-education consortiums
to which Chicago belongsthe Associated Colleges of the Midwest
and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation.
Undergraduates who have already ventured out of Hyde Park suggest
that foreign-study opportunities should receive greater publicity
on campus and note that not all University departments make it easy
for students to complete their major requirements if they study
overseas. They also urge alumni living abroad to provide a support
network for students. Lowes internship in Brussels, for example,
was organized by Stephanie Rada-Zocco, AB88, a former assistant
at the European Parliament. But overall, most participants seem
to agree that the experience can be life-changing.
The benefits you receive cannot possibly be outweighed by
considerations like fulfilling requirements or becoming out of touch
with the U of C environment, says third-year art-history concentrator
Claire Orenduff, now in Paris for the year. It does take more
work to let everyone know that youre still out there, and
to organize things at Chicago from across the ocean, but you can
stay in touch if you make the effort. I have grown in ways that
I wouldnt have been able to conceptualize before coming here.
Perhaps the Colleges most innovative approach to grooming
cosmopolitan students has been its creation of a civilization-studies
sequence compressed into one quarter that allows undergraduates
to fulfill their Common Core requirements and at the same time experience
a foreign culture. The courses are taught abroad by Chicago faculty
and are open only to Chicago students.
Philippe Desan, master of the humanities collegiate division, says
he came up with the idea as a way of teaching the civilization sequences
in context. He began in winter quarter 1997 by exporting Chicago
faculty members and about 25 undergraduates to Barcelona, Spain.
Desan then organized a similar course in Tours, France, which first
accepted students in spring 1998. This past autumn saw the addition
of Rome; an Athens venture will begin this spring. In the 19992000
academic year, students will have the option of Vienna and Buenos
Aires, and, in later years, Africa, the Middle East, and other South
American sites. Though the courses share a great deal with those
taught back in Chicago, Desan explains, we also try to use
the culture at hand. For example, in Tours the Renaissance
is emphasized because the city is located at the heart of a rich
artistic and cultural tradition that peaked during the 16th century.
The greatest challenge is to ensure the programs academic
rigor, says Desan. We certainly want the students to
experience a different culture, but we also want to keep the same
intellectual standards. The courses taught are real U of C courses,
and my job has been to make certain we do not water down the academic
Chicago faculty have found the experience of teaching their lifes
work in its birthplace intense. Charles Cohen, professor of art
history and chair of the Committee on Visual Arts, taught in Rome
this past autumn. It was almost sublime for me to be able
to view the works of art, walk the streets, and experience the piazzas
laid out in the Renaissance and Baroque with Chicago students,
Cohen says. He recalls how he and his students spent a day in the
classroom discussing the rise of St. Peters Cathedral over
300 years, and then spent the next day on site experiencing its
space and interpreting its papal tombs.
This is as complete a way as I can imagine to be introduced
to these central monuments of the Western tradition, though the
experience can be difficult and messy as well, Cohen says.
Churches can be cold and dark, works of art are not always
placed for ideal viewing, and half of Rome seemed to be under scaffolding.
But all this, along with aching feet and grumbling stomachs, is
often part of the experience, and I was perfectly happy to have
our students understand the difference between casual tourism and
really digging into the real stuff.
Emily C. Chang, a third-year English concentrator, participated
in the Rome quarter and would definitely recommend the experience.
She enjoyed weekend trips to the island of Capri, Florence, Switzerland,
Venice, and Milan, and found the workload just about the same
as a U of C class, maybe a little less. Learning this way,
she says, you realize that theres so much more to life
than studying at the Reg.
Other faculty and students will be packing soon for the spring
quarter in Athens. Christopher Faraone, chair of the Department
of Classical Languages and Literatures, will teach a course on the
history and material culture of Athens from Mycenaean to Byzantine
times. Faraone says his own experiences as an undergraduate traveling
in Egypt, Israel, and Greece helped create in me a lifelong
interest in ancient history and archaeology. He plans to arrange
field trips to archaeological sites or museums at least three times
a week and to require students to give on-site presentations on
sculptures, vase paintings, and monuments. He also hopes to set
up a Web site where students can post photos and notes so that family
and friends can follow their progress.
I think the students will come away with a tremendous understanding
of how accidental features of topography, natural resources, and
climate intersect with history in very important ways, he
predicts, noting that Athens small size allowed its citizens
to invent and practice direct democracy.
Gretchen Moeser, a third-year geophysical sciences major, has
signed on for the trip. Though nervous that she cannot speak a
word of Greek, she looks forward to experiencing a different
lifestyle and environment: Ive read pieces by Plato
and Socrates and about ancient Greece, but it will be interesting
to learn more about modern Greece and how Greece is still affected
by its history.
Besides civilization studies, the gift of gab has provided many
students with a passport overseas. The foreign language proficiency
certificate, adopted in 1996, helps spur students to talk their
way abroad. The certificate requires at least two years of study
and was awarded to 47 undergraduates for the first time last year.
The certificatesnoted on College transcriptsrecognize
those students who have not concentrated in a foreign language but
yet have attained proficiency. The first group of recipients studied
French, German, Italian, or Spanish. They took advanced courses
and had to pass oral and written examinations each quarter, including
a formal competency exam adapted from the Georgetown University
School of Foreign Service. Each also studied for at least one quarter
abroad, living with host families while enrolled in an intensive
As another incentive, last summer the College began a new foreign
language acquisition grant program, which sent 25 undergraduates
to language institutes all over the world, where they studied Breton,
Chinese, Czech, French, Gaelic, German, Hindi, Italian, Korean,
Polish, Russian, or Spanish. The College plans to award 50 FLAG
grants this summer, 100 in 2000, and at least 200 beginning in 2001.
Additional overseas language learning takes place in affiliation
with foreign universitiesincluding the University of Paris,
the University of Bologna, Freie Universität in Berlin, and
the University of Sevillewhere undergraduates can pursue intermediate
and advanced studies.
For Orenduff, one of her best memories in Paris so far is of being
invited by a friends neighbors to tea and managing to converse
with them in French. Anytime I am forced to communicate in
French and am able to get my point across eventually, it feels great,
she says. There are actually times I find myself at a loss
to express an idea or concept in English that I have recently learned
to incorporate into my French vocabulary. Youre forced to
take a more severe, critical look at expression through words.
But students dont have to study civilizations or be bilingual
to see the world. They can enroll in classes at affiliated British
and Irish universities. Third-year chemistry concentrator Douglas
Higgins is now at the University of Edinburgh, where he has taken
up Scottish country dancing and talked about and debated topics
ranging from politics to uses of sodium bicarbonate and its differences
from baking powder. Still other options emphasize fieldwork
and research. This past fall, anthropology professor Russell Tuttle
directed the ACMs semester-long Tanzania program. Five College
students, along with about 10 others, divided their time between
classroom work at the University of Dar es Salaam and fieldwork
in the northern region of Tanzania. They studied Swahili, human
evolution, and the ecology of the Serengeti Plain; explored independent
research topics; and lived in tent camps.
For students who want off the beaten paths, the College can arrange
more individually tailored experiences. In 1994, the College awarded
its first international traveling research fellowships to students
who used the money to study in China and Siberia. Last summer, 11
students worked for national and international human-rights organizations
through the Chicago Initiative on Human Rights. They included Elizabeth
M. Evenson, a fourth-year dual concentrator in public policy and
political science, who helped Physicians for Human Rights identify
war dead in Tuzla, Bosnia. After completing a two-year Marshall
scholarship studying international human rights law at the University
of Nottingham, she plans to attend law school.
My time in Bosnia was incredibly eye-opening and will permanently
color my world view, she says. Having never seen war
before, when I now hear news accounts about conflict in any part
of the world, images of destroyed buildings and massive cemeteries
in Sarajevo, with grave markers clustered so thick you cant
tell where one ends and the next begins, flood my mind. I dont
think that I can ever again be indifferent to allegations of human-rights
violations and abuses in any part of the world now that I have faces,
names, and so many personal stories to go along with the headlines.
The human-rights initiative also placed third-year philosophy
concentrator John Rory Eastburg in Bombay with VOICE, a grassroots
organization that teaches reading, math, and job skills to children
who work on the citys train platforms. Eastburg, the president
of Chicagos chapter of Amnesty International, was impressed
by how the efforts of just 20 staffers could benefit the lives of
as many as 400 children. The experience further convinced him that
economic and social rights are absolutely necessary to the
concept of humanity, and that they are necessary for the real fulfillment
of more traditional civil and political rights.
Spoken like a true citizen of the world.