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September 16, 2002

Faculty abroad trips cross (scholarly) borders

Lailee Mendelson is communications coordinator for the Office of International Affairs.

Study abroad programs have traditionally been the realm of undergraduates. But here at Emory, two distinctive programs offer intensive learning trips for faculty as well, the fruits of which are professional development, personal inspiration and lasting collegial ties.

Since 1998, three groups of Emory faculty have traveled to the medieval university town of Salamanca, Spain, for a monthlong course in Spanish language and culture. Karen Stolley, associate professor of Spanish and director of the program, said it was designed “to give faculty a real appreciation of the fact that language training is intimately connected to cultural learning.”

While spending most of their time in class, faculty in the Salamanca program also learn to make their way as residents in another culture, an aspect of the experience Stolley believes is especially valuable. “They are living in apartments, going to the grocery store and having an experience that is very different from traveling as a professional academic,” she said.

Many participants have been surprised at the cultural and personal awareness they have gained through the program. One is Gordon Newby, professor of Middle Eastern Studies and executive director of the Institute for Comparative and International Studies, who traveled to Salamanca in 2001. Newby’s research had led him to a set of Hispano-Arabic texts written by Muslims after their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492.

But the ability to translate these texts was not the only benefit reaped from the program, said Newby, who also found himself reflecting on the learning process. “I think it’s really helpful as a teacher to cross over to the other side of the lectern from time to time,” he said, “and to be reminded of what it’s like to learn a brand new subject.”

Other faculty members also have translated the Salamanca experience back into their professional lives, often in substantive ways. During her trip, music Assistant Professor Bonnie Pomfret fell in love with the work of 18th century Mexican poet Sor Juana de la Cruz and, upon returning to Emory, commissioned musical settings for the poems. Pomfret will perform these pieces at the opening of Schwartz Center for Performing Arts in February 2003.

Filmmaker and art history Lecturer Bill Brown and history Associate Professor Mary Odem, who met during the program, discovered a shared interest in Hispanic and Latino immigration issues in the United States. They are now collaborating on a documentary that depicts the often transnational lifestyle of Atlantans from Guatemala and Mexico.

Such collaborative outgrowths excite Stolley. “The experience of a small group of faculty immersed in another culture and relatively disconnected from their primary responsibilities at Emory provides for type of interdisciplinary intellectual community that Emory faculty find difficult to achieve in their day-to-day activities,” she said. She hopes the program will be expanded to other languages and cultures, such as Chinese and Arabic.

Similar interdisciplinary exchanges flourish on the Halle Institute Faculty Study Trip Program, which takes Emory faculty on a rigorous tour through the cultural, political and economic life of countries they have not previously studied in detail.

“The intensity of travel, of new experiences and of personal encounters with people from another culture provides a crucible in which lasting collegial ties and lasting ideas are forged,” said Peter Wakefield, program director of the Halle Institute.

Faculty alumni from Halle trips have initiated projects and opened new paths in their teaching and research thanks to the experience. Inspired by their journey to India last January, nursing Assistant Professor Peggy Moloney and Associate Professor Michelle Lampl from anthropology have proposed a joint project to provide health care to an Indian village.

Law Professor Mel Gutterman, part of the 2001 delegation to Germany, employs the experience of touring prisons in Berlin to teach his course, “America Behind Bars.” Fellow traveler David Cook, professor of film studies, uses connections made at a Berlin museum to send graduate students to research the museum’s extensive archives on German silent cinema of the 1920s.

“It was one of the best experiences I’ve had at Emory,” Cook said—a sentiment repeated by several participants of both these unique programs.

Reports and photos from last year’s Halle trip to India are now available online at