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Study abroad program provides cultural enlightenment

February 28, 2013

By Stephanie Metzger

Cleveland State University is renowned for its vast diversity, but the Department of Modern Languages’ study abroad program presents students with the opportunity for a cultural revelation.

The department offers three study abroad trips this summer, featuring a trip to France, Spain and Costa Rica. Students of any major and field of study can attend, though two of the trips require experience in foreign language.

The trip to France is scheduled for June 2-28. Students will be stationed in Rouen for the majority of the trip, with a five-day stay in Paris at the end of the trip. Excursions include a visit to the beaches of Normandy, a visit to the Dannon yogurt factory and time at the French Impressionist festival.

Students are required to have one year of French language experience and must complete a preparation course. The course readies students for their trip overseas by educating them on what to expect. Students also receive the opportunity to take an Intercultural Development Theory, which evaluates the students’ cultural range. The results give the student an idea of where they can develop and expand their cultural horizons. Students take the same evaluation when they return from their trip so that they can measure their cultural development.

Tama Engelking, chair of the Department of Modern Languages, will be the faculty leader during the trip to France. Engelking noted that students must push themselves out of their own comfort zone in order to receive a true cultural enlightenment during their trip.
“Intercultural proficiency skills are really important, and very often students don’t challenge themselves,” Engelking said. “They want to be comfortable in
their own little bubble, so they might go on program and just hang out with their American group, and if they do anything cultural it’s just going to be like tourism.”

In order to avoid tourism, Engelking stressed the dangers of Facebook and McDonald’s. She explained that students in that past adhered to their American preferences too much by preferring to eat at American fast food chains rather than trying local cuisine. She also said past participants spent too much time chatting with friends back home via Facebook rather than exploring the culture abroad.

Engelking noted that students must be open to the new culture and be accepting of the differences, even if they feel uncomfortable. Otherwise, students may return home with negative experiences.

“Students can go to China for an entire year and not experience any intercultural growth,” Engelking said. “Or they can even go backwards, because what can happen is they have a negative experience and then they think, ‘Oh this
reinforces all these stereotypes I have’, and they just regress.”

Kara Rader, a junior who joined the study abroad program last year, noted that adapting to culture overseas was challenging, but the skills she learned in the classroom assisted her adjustment.

“It could be challenging at times with the differences in languages,” Rader said. “You just learn how to work around with words you didn’t know or try to define it or even use hand motions.”

The film and digital media and french major went to France for three weeks to study the French film industry.

Students are required to complete field studies with the option of a special project, which can be used to complete the capstone requirement. Studies can range from examining rugby or dog training in France to health care in Costa Rica.

Rader conducted her own field study project in which she examined the contrasts between American and French film. During her free time she engaged in various excursions, such as a hike to the top of a volcano.

Also, part of the summer study abroad program is a trip to Spain, led by Professor Stephen Gingerich. The trip is just over a month long, from June 24–July 27, with the option of a four-day stay in Barcelona at the end.

Participants on this trip will stay in Salamanca and attend classes at the University of Salamanca’s Center for International Studies. Salamanca is a thriving area where students will be encouraged to be independent and utilize their language skills. The key point is to get students talking.

“Among the things they could do, they could just see a movie in Spanish,” Gingerich said. “They could go to a park and talk to people about what they think about American culture, or what they think about fast food or the European union.”

Undergraduates and graduate students with one year of university Spanish experience are eligible to attend, and must complete the pre-trip preparation course.

Gingerich emphasized the point that students needn’t be of a language-focused field in order to study abroad, and that the experience can be beneficial for anyone.

“I think it’s really important for all of our programs that you don’t have to be a language major to go on them,” he said. “This kind of international element to your education is a great thing on your resume, no matter what kind of field you’re in.”

Cost is another prominent factor when it comes to deciding on a study abroad program, but both Engelking and Gingerich noted the results, which outweigh the means.

The program in Spain costs $4,975, whichincludes airfare, hotels, transportation, room and board, and all excursions. Additionally, it covers the cost of six credit hours at the University of Salamanca.

“If the program’s $4,900 and $2,100 of that is CSU credits, then you’re basically getting a month in Spain for under $3,000,” Gingerich explained. “People spend $5,000 to spend just 10 days in Europe.”

The trip to France costs $4,850 and also includes airfare, room and board, transportation, excursions, and three credit hours at I’Universite de Rouen. The trip to Costa Rica. Which runs from July 5 - August 9, costs $4,500 for students on the Spanish or criminology track, and $4,700 for students on the health care or business track. The trip to China costs $4,300. Both the Costa Rica and China trips include airfare, lodging and excursions.

Overall, students can earn up to 12 credits in Spanish, six credits in French and eight credits in Chinese, and Chinese business or culture through the summer programs.

The study abroad program has assisted several students in the past by boosting their knowledge and enhancing their cultural breadth.

“It was a wonderful experience, just speaking French and being around actual French people was amazing,” Rader said. There’s a big difference between classroom French and actual French in France. I would easily do it again, and I would easily pay double or triple the cost it was to go.”

“There’s a good academic reason to this and it’s not as prohibitive in cost as they may think,” Engelking added. “There’s a good personal reason to do it. You can expand your whole global outlook.”

For more information on the Cleveland State study abroad programs, visit www.csuohio.edu/international.