Going abroad for classes with culture

1:50:39 PM CDT - Friday, February 11, 2005

By Amy Geiszler-Jones and Melissa Lacey

Tongues wagging in greeting, visiting places described in great works of literature, and singing on the banks of Italy's Arno River — these are the kinds of experiences WSU students and others can get this summer through three classes abroad.

WSU has had limited offerings of such cultural classes that include an instructor accompanying students abroad for a few weeks, but the opportunities are growing.

This year, for example, the anthropology department is offering its first such class with a trip to New Zealand, which has been popularized in modern American culture through the filming of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "The Last Samurai."

Jackie Snyder, the faculty member leading the New Zealand-bound class, is a major proponent of study abroad.

"Educational travel study can give American students a bigger world view," she says. "Because we're in a heartland institution, it can be tough to go abroad." Cultural classes can offer an economical way to travel since they are often all-inclusive of lodging, food and travel.

Mike Philson, executive director of WSU's Office of International Education, says faculty members who find organizing such a course daunting and time-consuming can come to his office for help.

"There are organizations to help with the logistics if a faculty member doesn't think they can handle that," he says.

"I would love to get more interest in setting these up on a regular basis," Philson says. "We're in favor of anything that will get more of our students overseas."

The three study-abroad classes will take place this May and June. Political science faculty member and Model United Nations adviser Carolyn Shaw plans to offer a class that studies European and U.N. politics again in 2006, after debuting the class in summer 2004.

What the Dickens

Readers of British literature can visit the places they've read about in books by authors such as Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, James Joyce and Charles Dickens, to name a few in the class "Literary Landscapes of Britain." Started several years ago by Christopher Brooks, this year's class is being led by Karen Burge, who's taught the class three prior times.

"It's an interesting, fast-paced literature class," says Burge, noting the various locations that are visited during the class that lasts from 10 to 14 days. "We try to see as much as we can, including the historical and picturesque."

Students have some input in where they visit by sharing with Burge their literary favorites during the spring semester, when she starts planning the class.

 Nearly every trip, however, includes a visit to London, focusing on Dickens. Other trip destinations may include Dorcester (Hardy), Bath (Austen), Wales (William Wordsworth), Stratford-upon-Avon (William Shakespeare), Haworth, West Yorkshire (the Brontë sisters) and Ireland (Joyce).

Students complete their literary readings before the trip so they don't have to lug around weighty books. Two weeks after they return, students meet for a final class meeting to turn in a paper and swap pictures.

The class may be taken for three hours of credit; the cost of the class, besides tuition and fees, varies depending on airfare and exchange rates but is usually less than $2,000. The class usually takes place between the spring and summer semesters, starting in May.

More on the Maori
While Hollywood has made New Zealand a  "glam, cool place," Snyder says, the country is "profoundly interesting" in a number of study areas, including the environmental and cultural aspects that Snyder will teach about during the two-week trip.

From a cultural standpoint, students will learn about how the indigenous Maori, known for their full-body tattoos, have worked together with the European descendants to restore their environment.

For example, the two-island nation had no mammals — only nonflying birds, the most famous being the kiwi, the country's national symbol. The birds were no match for the dogs, cats, horses and other mammals introduced by the colonizing Europeans, and some species disappeared. The country has become known as a place to restore endangered species to nature, Snyder says.

The WSU class will visit a kiwi breeding program at Rainbow Springs to learn about such preservation efforts. The group will also visit Rotorua, the center of the Maori nation, and tour a thermal village with active geysers and mud pools. The group will also see a Hangi ritual, a way of cooking meat and vegetables over hot volcanic rocks using trapped steam.

The group could be greeted at the sites by the traditional Maori welcome sign — a wagging tongue.
Students will complete pretrip readings and meetings prior to departure May 21. The trip cost is $2,995, plus tuition and fees for the three credit hours. For more information go to

Arias on the Arno

After the success of its first trip last year, WSU's School of Music is planning its second summer voice program, "Canta in Italia." Vocal performance majors can immerse themselves in the birthplace of opera during a four-week program in Florence, Italy, in June.

"We created the program to give students an opportunity to study and sing Italian arias while improving their knowledge of the Italian language and culture," says Dorothy Crum, professor and director of voice/choral music.

Last summer, 10 WSU students, four faculty members and two accompanists made the inaugural trip to Florence in the heart of the Tuscany region.

"It was fabulous," says Crum. "The students learned so much and we saw their improvements when we returned."

While in Florence, students earn college credit while taking language classes, voice lessons, coaching sessions, master classes and field trips. The program culminates with a concert performance for the Italian public on the banks of the famed Arno River. Plans are under way for this summer's excursion. Program fees will be about $4,100, and financial aid is available.

"Not only is the program an excellent opportunity for current WSU students, but the inquiry from outside the university indicates it will also be a good recruitment tool for us," says Crum.

For more information go to

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