by Sheila Wasserman
A trail of chicken feathers led Mary Lancaster to a Belize bed and breakfast where she had the best chicken she ever tasted. Mary was in Belize six years ago as part of an SPC study abroad program. Ecology was the subject she signed up for, but it was a small part of the knowledge she came home owning. The meal “… was a kind of empanada with sweet potatoes,” she said. “The backbone was still attached to the chicken and some of my classmates wouldn’t eat it. I told them to give it to me. I ate it all.”
SPC’s Study Abroad program allows you to earn the same three or six credits for courses you planned to take anyway, but is set in a dynamic classroom. Immerse yourself in Spanish culture, dance, and film while you stay in Spain with a local family who speak no English. Study international business in Costa Rica where you will visit Intel, Tech Data, and other corporations. Learn their business challenges and how cultural differences affect business etiquette and rules for establishing relationships. Walk along the streets of Florence where the early Renaissance period lives. Study High Renaissance and Baroque period in Rome as part of the Humanities class and where Tim Wolter, faculty leader says, “…they have toilets older than our country.” Explore jungle biodiversity and 2000-year-old Mayan ruins in Belize for a class in Tropical Ecology. Travel to London and tour the Globe Theater where Shakespeare worked. Take in a couple of theater performances as you learn the Theater Arts. Social Psychology doesn’t get any more real than in Derry, Ireland, where you learn through a personal account about civil rights and riots, the clash between religions and politics, and the effect it has on the people who live through it.
Ramona Kirsch, Director of the Center for International Programs at SPC, pulled Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat off her shelf to emphasize its point. Friedman argues economic interdependence between nations necessitates more communication with each other. Ms. Kirsch opines, no matter what discipline your professional life takes, all students benefit from a global perspective, and the ability to understand the larger world and our society’s place in it.
On a personal growth level, Ms. Kirsch said, “this is not a vacation.” The program gives students first-hand knowledge and a different world view perspective. She says travel reduces prejudices and helps students’ intellectual development. Joshua McKeown, Director of International Education and Programs and an instructor in the Global and International Studies Department at the State University of New York at Oswego, goes further in his book The First Time Effect. Beyond cultural and linguistic benefits, he shows how study abroad programs promote intellectual growth for those travelling for the first time. McKeown says the organized travel experience in a “supportive environment with appropriately challenging activities and programs” is more effective than passive learning on your own. SPC’s Study Abroad program is the perfect venue.
The courses are staggered, with most offered during the summer. The earliest travel date is May 2nd for England and the Theater Arts, but pre-travel class time for that course begins April 3rd. Most programs have class time scheduled before and/or after the travel dates. Anna Faiola, a SPC international programs representative said students can take online courses while they study abroad to avoid interference with the semester, however some students admitted internet access while out of the country could be sporadic. If you need credits and are taking Spanish, check into the optional work experience program. You can earn three additional credits in the program. The Ireland trip offers two courses—Social Psychology and International Relations. Do the course work for both to earn more credits on the same trip.
The biggest impediment for most students is the program cost. The Study Abroad website includes individual user friendly spreadsheets for every country. Students can change entries to suit their situation. Have a passport? Deduct $135 from the bottom line. Find a cheaper flight? Substitute your figures for the numbers provided on the spreadsheet. One non-negotiable charge is the $200 application fee. Also mandatory is student dependent travel/health insurance. Costs are influenced by the length of the program (London is 7 days, Ireland is 16 days) and travel distance (Central America or Europe). They run from $2508 to $4531 with the average total cost according to Director Kirsch of $3300. This includes course fees and books, transportation, lodging and most food. Spanish language students have the option to extend classes by three weeks for $1200. Anyone can choose to extend their trip for personal travel time. The people in the Study Abroad program office are ready to help you with planning and travel arrangements.
Students are encouraged to apply to as many scholarships as are appropriate. In addition to other applicable SPC Foundation scholarships, study abroad specific options include four at $925 and five at $800. Also available is $2500 toward a bachelor’s degree and $1000 for need-based Honors students.
It’s important to travel with a desire to explore and try new experiences. Mary tasted the best chicken ever because she wasn’t going to let an unusual presentation stop her. The rain forest wasn’t at all what she expected. Unlike in the movies, she was surprised to learn you don’t need a machete to clear a path. Her Ecology research project about parasites became more than theory when she met someone who had removed one of those parasites from under his skin. A little apprehensive before she went, she relaxed and was comfortable when she met the other students, who were also from different backgrounds. She no longer felt like “a fish out of water.” She had other adventurers for company.
For course details, cost spreadsheets, itineraries, available scholarships and student blogs, check out the website www.spcollege.edu/studyabroad.