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International Brown Bag looks at transformative potential of study abroad Monday, Dec. 3
Friday, November 30, 2012


"All return from France with a richer understanding of what it means to reach across boundaries of culture, language, and stereotypical perceptions to interact with other human beings."

Dr. John Arnold and Dr. Mary Beth Sievens of the History department faculty will present the talk, "Heavenly Portals 2012: The Transformative Potential of Study Abroad," at the International Brown Bag Luncheonon Monday, Dec. 3 in the English Reading Room (Fenton Hall 127).

Dr. Sievens and Dr. Arnold recruit participants for the “Heavenly Portals” course to Paris by encouraging them to consider the profound experience of stepping for the first time into the Sainte Chapelle or the cathedral at Chartres. To encounter the interplay of light and color within the voluminous, upward-thrusting space of the Gothic interior indelibly changes an understanding not only of one’s self, but also of the abilities and imaginative capabilities of past peoples.

Students, of course, find no less broadening their maneuvering through the Metro, visiting the Louvre, or ordering pizza in French.

All return from France with a richer understanding of what it means to reach across boundaries of culture, language, and stereotypical perceptions to interact with other human beings.

Professors return no less changed. Mary Beth Sievens reflects on her growing awareness of the transformative potential of study abroad and its transcendence of the academic component of the experience.

One of the more fascinating aspects of this second iteration of the course was her experiencing the class through the eyes of a group of students who brought different expectations and a different "comfort level" with international travel than the group on the first trip in 2010. John Arnold considers how the experience of foreign travel stretches our capacity to interact with others, despite economic and social status.

A chance conversation with a wealthy industrialist on a train resulted in a reconsideration of many of the issues surrounding the just-concluded French presidential campaign, issues remarkably similar to those that marked our own election on Nov. 6. Remarkably, a conversation between foreigners struggling across a language divide allowed for a civil dialogue despite starkly dissimilar viewpoints.

Travel transformed a potentially rancorous exchange into an empathetic encounter, surely the most important goal of the experience of travel abroad.

 

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