Professor Jerry S. Carlson of UC Riverside suggests in his research that professors often discourage undergraduate students from studying abroad, especially if students must take courses to meet their major requirements. This is understandable; if more students chose to study abroad, then professors would have fewer students in their own courses. Additionally, many professors who teach at American universities believe that the U.S. provides the best quality of higher education.
However, faculty, staff, and administration of the Claremont Colleges have a long history of helping students make the most of their study abroad experiences, and the 5Cs have been on the cutting-edge of designing innovative programs. Pomona College was the first of the Claremont Colleges to assist students in applying to a wide variety of study abroad programs. During the 1970s, faculty members were dissatisfied with the low quality of study abroad programs in which the college had little input. The crucial issue of academic credit-worthiness was one of the reasons Pomona’s Office of International Education (OIE) was created in 1973. Ever since, Pomona has participated in designing its own programs with extensive involvement of faculty members and administration. In the 1980s, over 10% of faculty members participated in Pomona’s International Education Committee to advise and evaluate study abroad programs.
Pitzer College’s former Vice President of External Relations, Thomas Manley, is recognized for designing the Fieldbook Method, aimed at facilitating cultural immersion for its students. According to this method, students participate in experientially-based field studies and cultural immersion programs, such as cultural artifact scavenger hunts, and record their thoughts in their Fieldbooks. According to Manley’s Ph.D. thesis, Study Abroad Pedagogy, the model took shape in the late 1980s and “has since been developed by faculty, students, community members and field staff, who have participated in more than a decade of programming in nearly a dozen countries.”
Manley also argues that the Pitzer Fieldbook method shatters the “false dichotomy between the academic dimensions of a program and the experientially based learning that most effectively leads to the development of cross-cultural perspectives.” This element is especially important to prepare students to operate in an increasingly globalized world.
This year, Claremont McKenna College has followed in the footsteps of Pitzer and Pomona. In addition to other study abroad program providers, CMC’s new Center for Global Education has designed three new and rigorous programs for Claremont students. The CMC Executive Director for International Programs, Aleta Wenger described the programs as “unique and creative.” After the Center finishes experimenting with viable summer options and participants assess these programs, the Center will consider the next steps.
The Center’s new summer program destinations include Jordan, Israel and Korea, each with its own thematic focus. Students will study economics in Korea, Arabic culture and language in Jordan, and history and culture in Israel. The programs are designed so students not only advance their intercultural understanding, but also to further their professional and academic goals.
Kristen Mallory, the Director of Off Campus Study, said that the Center’s summer programs are based on student interest and involve a great deal of support and commitment from CMC faculty members. Each program involves a CMC professor forgoing his or her summer research opportunities in favor of accompanying and teaching student participants.
Ms. Wenger told the Port Side that, “CMC students are interested in almost everything” and look forward to experiencing many different cultures. Due to limited resources, however, CMC senior faculty members have to design the programs with great prudence.
Pomona’s OIE Report summarizes certain disadvantages of sending groups of students abroad accompanied by faculty members. Problems recruiting appropriate faculty members for the programs, the teachers’ subsequent absence from the classroom, and the expense needed to organize the programs place an enormous strain on the college administration. Additionally, the sporadic availability of appropriate programs for different academic disciplines prohibits students from planning their four years at college beginning freshman year. These disadvantages led to the discontinuation of faculty-led study abroad programs at Pomona in the early 1980s.
CMC’s program appears to have overcome many of these difficulties. This summer’s eight-week pilot program in Jordan includes an intensive seminar course on Arab society, tradition, and culture taught by CMC Professor of Arabic, Bassam Frangieh. Students will also spend six of the eight weeks participating in an internship at an NGO, business, school, or museum relating to their specific field of interest.
While students of liberal arts colleges are more likely to study abroad because they often study the social sciences and humanities, Pomona College’s OIE Report revealed that many liberal arts students do not choose to do so due to scheduling conflicts. This is especially true for students trying to fulfill CMC’s many general education requirements.
Fortunately, the Center also advises students on an individual basis, thus helping every CMC student plan their study abroad options. Ms. Wenger and Ms. Mallory explained that the Center for Global Education staff refer to the student experiences at CMC in the context of the“circle of life.” According to Wenger, “During the freshman and sophomore years, the Center’s Office of Off-Campus Study staff holds numerous informational sessions on campus about study abroad and Washington Program opportunities.” When students return to campus for junior and senior years, the Center’s Fellowship Coordinator will provide students with up-to-date information about prestigious national award and fellowships programs and deadlines. The Center also offers fellowship advising and Fulbright workshops to complete the “circle of life.”
For now, CMC’s Center for Global Education offers Claremont students new thematic summer study abroad programs and fellowship counseling. As time goes on, the role of the Center will surely expand to help Claremont students stay competitive in today’s increasingly interconnected world.