January 30, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 32°F


European travel enhances learning

As Ithaca College strives to achieve the goals set out in the IC 20/20 strategic plan, professors at the college are creating opportunities for students to enrich their education through global educational experiences.

Two weekends ago, James Pfrehm, assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, returned from Heidelberg, Germany, where he and four students attended International Week celebrations at SRH University Heidelberg.

The SRH University Heidelberg is one of the largest and oldest private universities in Germany, according to the university’s website. At the conference, students attended classes taught in English by faculty from around the world and took an exam to receive a grade and academic credits for the courses.

This trip falls under the IC 20/20’s driving theme of “Expanding our Vision through Enhanced National and Global Education.”

During the week at the university, Pfrehm taught a lecture to 11 students from different parts of the world, and the four students from the college were among the more than 150 international students involved in the celebrations.

The IC 20/20 strategic plan, which was announced by President Tom Rochon in 2011, seeks to give students a vision of the personal and professional environment after college. The program is currently in its second year.

Sophomore Shawn Davis, one of the four students who attended the conference, said there was a significant difference between his experience at the college and in Heidelberg.

“At Ithaca, most kids seem to be quiet in class most of the time,” he said. “But [in Germany], the professors engage us more, and the participation doesn’t feel forced. The experience is more interactive.”

Even though some aspects of the trip focused on academic learning and completing tasks for instructors, students said they enjoyed sharing foods and drinks from their culture.

Students said they took Ithaca’s South Hill maple syrup to represent their American culture as a group, while students of other nationalities brought black licorice vodka from Finland; wine, cheese, and sausage from France; and beer from Belgium.

Tanya Saunders, assistant provost for international studies and special projects, said IC 20/20 called for more global programs like this Heidelberg trip.

“Our belief is that our students will be competing with the educated classes around the world, not just with the students sitting next to them,” Saunders said. “We would like to see more such events for our students.”

Danette Johnson, assistant provost and director of the core curriculum, said this trip gave students an experience outside the traditional classroom, helping fulfil the outcomes of the IC 20/20.

“Being able to understand different points of view can help us become better problem solvers … If you have the experience of being in another country, it is a very different setting, and you can learn a lot about yourself there,” she said.

According to statistics from the Office of International Programs, in the 2012–13 academic year there were 37 students who attended short-term — one to six weeks long — faculty-run study abroad sessions. This is down from 141 students in 2009–10. This year, there will be an estimated 52 students participating.

Rachel Cullenen, director of study abroad at the Office of International Programs, said via email this decrease may be because of the additional costs associated with short-term study abroad sessions.

“Since short-term study abroad over winter or summer breaks represents an extra cost over the typical semester charges,” she said. “Many students tend to focus more on semester-length study abroad opportunities, since they are already going to be paying tuition [and] room/board during a semester.”

Meanwhile, Pfrehm said he has been invited back in Fall 2014 to conduct the same seminar and take another group of students with him. He said experiences like this help students step back and examine themselves as U.S. citizens.

“Part of going abroad is also not just who you are as an American, but looking at other Americans from your own culture and how they represent themselves and your culture and thinking ‘I don’t want to be like that’ or ‘I could do this better,’” he said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following corrections. Correction, October 24, 2013:

The article incorrectly referred to the number of faculty-run short-term study abroad sessions. Those statistics represent the number of students who participated in short-term study abroad programs.