Study Abroad in the Liberal Arts Experience

Going global with CIPA

Kristi Hubbard

Director, Center for International Programs Abroad

 I strongly believe that studying abroad is one of the best learning experiences possible and that it allows you to grow as a person in a way which you could never do by staying in your own country and comfort zone.” 

—Fiona O’Carroll, Emory College Class of 2014

Nearly 50 percent of Emory College students have an experience abroad before graduation. Their overseas experiences are coordinated through the Center for International Programs Abroad (CIPA), the study abroad office for the Emory College of Arts and Sciences. It is CIPA’s philosophy that international experience is an integral part of a liberal arts education. How does the rich variety of those experiences play out in the context of an Emory education? 

With that question in mind, the Education Abroad Committee, a new standing faculty committee of Emory College of Arts and Sciences, recently endorsed five learning goals for the Emory study abroad experience:

  1. To facilitate students’ academic development and intellectual growth.
  2. To foster students’ global perspectives.
  3. To contribute to students’ professional development. 
  4. To accelerate students’ personal growth.
  5. To contribute to the internationalization of students’ home departments, college, and university. 

Through its programs, CIPA interacts with nearly eight hundred students each academic year. The majority of those students participate in traditional study abroad programs for academic credit—typically a semester overseas or a summer program with Emory faculty members studying a particular subject, language, or culture in context. Additionally, CIPA offers other types of experiences, such as UPGRADE (Undergraduate Program in Global Research and Development), through which students participate in non-credit-bearing service-learning experiences in a developing nation. The accounts below highlight real-life manifestations of those goals established by the Education Abroad Committee and how students’ international experiences have shaped their lives.

Does study abroad actually facilitate students’ academic development and intellectual growth? Laura Manor, linguistics major, Class of 2014, spent a year abroad on Emory’s full immersion program in Paris, taking classes through the program’s French university partners. She stumbled upon a class called “Langue et Ordinateur” (Language and Computer), which led her to discover a new field of study not often emphasized at Emory: computational linguistics. During the second half of her experience in Paris, she continued to take classes in this department and subsequently started a minor in computer science upon her return to Emory. As a direct result of her study abroad experience and exposure to a field that she might not otherwise have had the opportunity to encounter, she now plans to apply to graduate school in France in the field of computational linguistics.

Does study abroad foster students’ global perspectives? Amrit Dhir, international studies major, Class of 2006, participated in several CIPA summer programs, and it was his freshman summer experience abroad in the Russian Studies program in St. Petersburg that first instilled in him a curiosity and an openness that has compelled him ever since to try “to live abroad rather than travel abroad, to ask rather than tell, to seek but not always conclude, to adventure and immerse and not just go or be.” Amrit also spent a summer abroad on Emory’s German Studies program in Vienna as a student and two summers as the assistant to the program, a year pursuing a master’s in Maastricht, a year completing a volunteer fellowship in Delhi, a year starting up an office for a Dutch university in Bangalore, a semester studying in Hong Kong during law school, a month researching on the Burma-Thai border, and most recently, two months living and learning Spanish in Valencia. He said it is “difficult to overstate” how much those experiences abroad have informed his daily life since: “Where I choose to live today, what I prioritize in my career, how I think about music, how I think about artistic expression generally, what the international headlines tell me, how I understand history’s flirting with the present, and how I talk to people and engage socially are all influenced deeply by the places I have called home.”

Can study abroad meaningfully contribute to students’ professional development? “It is my ultimate goal to have a career in public health and community development. I want to be able to gain an understanding of the political climate, social ethos, and environments that shape an area’s outlook and challenges that affect the state of their health care,” said Erin Swearing, anthropology major, Class of 2011. She approached CIPA knowing that she wanted to study public health, but it was her CIPA study abroad adviser who encouraged her to consider an experience in Africa instead of a more traditional European program. Inspired by this advice, Erin took a class focused on the environment and ecology of Africa before her participation in a program in Ghana where she was able to witness water sanitation issues in action. She also took “Popular Culture of Ghana” with local Ghanaian students who provided their own interpretation of their culture, which motivated Erin to add an African studies minor to her academic credentials upon her return to Emory. Today, she is studying in the Global Environmental Health Department of the Rollins School of Public Health and continuing her research into water sanitation and hygiene.

Can study abroad accelerate students’ personal growth? Shreyas Sreenath, Class of 2011, began his academic career as an economics major. As he participated in a variety of non-traditional experiences abroad in developing nations—service learning in India, independent research in Kenya, and a semester in Uganda—he realized he did not want to take a traditional economics major path. Instead, he wanted to work toward a career with government, a university, or a non-governmental organization: “Although theoretical knowledge forms the backbone of any field, there is something to be said about building theory from the field, from an empirical basis.” After graduating from Emory, Shreyas received a Fulbright Research Grant to Bangladesh and is now in the Laney Graduate School studying for a Ph.D. in anthropology.

Does study abroad contribute to the internationalization of students’ home departments, college, and university? The Department of Spanish and Portuguese has a long history of supporting study abroad and currently offers two summer programs. First, the Iberian Studies in Seville and Salamanca, Spain, provides Spanish language instruction at all levels. Second, Argentine Studies in Buenos Aires focuses on literature, politics, and history. Through these programs, the Emory faculty directors have identified a need to better incorporate the study abroad experience with the on-campus experience. Argentine Professor Hernan Feldman said the department is considering the creation of a capstone seminar course for seniors who have studied abroad. While students learn through exposure and immersion into the local culture during study abroad, there is generally not a lot of time or structure devoted to serious reflection on the experience. Through this seminar, students would have the opportunity to discuss their experiences, be guided through reflection exercises, gain discursive tools, discover (or re-discover) what they learned, and articulate their experiences in a meaningful way. While most Emory College departments wholeheartedly support study abroad, few departments as yet provide formal opportunities for integration of study abroad with on-campus curriculum after the experience. The Department of Spanish and Portuguese will set a positive example for this integration and internationalization for other departments. 

Ultimately, it is CIPA’s goal to provide a wide range of international opportunities that appeal to students of all disciplines and that contribute seamlessly to their Emory education, while also augmenting their personal and intellectual growth. With more than a hundred opportunities in more than forty countries, CIPA offers an international experience for every student. 

Selected international resources on the web at Emory

The Office of International Student Life (http://oisl.emory.edu/) aims to connect international students to “meaningful campus life opportunities” and facilitates events and programs for both domestic and international students, from excursions around Atlanta to international coffee hours on campus. It especially emphasizes campus engagement for students. The site includes a “Resources” section intended to link international students to wider activities in the Atlanta area. 

International Student and Scholar Services (http://www.emory.edu/isss/) has the stated goal of “[providing] positive international educational exchange through all our services.” To that end, the ISSS takes care of the “nuts and bolts” of international engagement, helping to arrange and facilitate the employment of international faculty and staff and working to ensure compliance with all appropriate regulations. The ISSS also provides support to newly transplanted international faculty, staff, and scholars, addressing issues from banking and housing to driving and language assistance.

The Claus M. Halle Institute for Global Learning (http://halleinstitute.emory.edu/) is the main point of contact at Emory for visits by heads of state, distinguished policymakers, and influential international public intellectuals. The institute hosts several public events throughout the year. It also sponsors the Halle Study Trip Program, which brings Emory faculty and students other parts of the world, as well as the Halle Research Program, which helps facilitate and sponsor faculty-led meetings, conferences, projects, and initiatives. 

The Office of International Affairs (http://www.international.emory.edu/index.html) describes itself as “Emory University’s central hub for international partnerships, communications, and initiatives.” It works with deans, directors, and faculty to develop and support projects and initiatives of an international nature, and it works closely with the Development and Alumni Relations offices. The Fulbright Scholar Program, the Claus M. Halle Institute for Global Learning, the Confucius Institute in Atlanta, and the International Student and Scholar Services office are all under the purview of the Office of International Affairs. 

Center for International Programs Abroad (http://cipa.emory.edu/index.html); See article on this page.

The Institute for Developing Nations (http://www.idn.emory.edu): See following article. —M.S.