A class in the first year abroad program (FY@broad) includes a focal point seminar and a one-week, international excursion. In 2011/12, FY@broad classes included Crypts and Castles: “Jordan” in World History taught by Warren Schultz; The Many Faces of Berlin taught by Julia Woesthoff; and Literature of Place: Dublin taught by Barbara Schaffer. In the upcoming academic year, the first cohort of FY@broad students will be seniors.
“Everyone who has ever studied or lived abroad knows the value of that experience. So, how do we bring that to students? FY@broad opens up the classroom to the whole world. For freshman, a quarter-long program would be daunting. But a week is just right for dipping toes in the water.” says Julia Woesthoff, assistant professor, History.
Barbara Schaffer, adjunct instructor in English and the assistant vice president in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, agrees: “For many students, this is a first-time exposure to international travel and a first step toward the thoughtful life. I wish we could send every freshman overseas — the benefits are that great. In just one week, they grow intellectually, but they also gain confidence by becoming travelers, not just tourists: they really see how other people live and, in doing that, become more open-minded.”
Started three years ago by Sharon Nagy (former director of the Study Abroad Program), DePaul’s FY@broad program is unusual for three reasons: 1) the fact that it’s a first-year program (versus the more conventional junior year experience); 2) its academic rigor; and 3) the role of a dedicated staff member in preparing each class for an international travel experience.
“In universities around the country, there’s ample debate on the challenges of first-year experiences,” says GianMario Besana, Office of the Provost, and associate professor, College of Computing and Digital Media. “Our faculty/staff model, as well as the integration of FY@broad into the Liberal Studies curriculum, really resolve potential difficulties and make this program so successful.”
“The world is a lot bigger than a freshman’s mind,” says Cortez Alexander. “It was my dream to travel to another country, and I signed up for Jordan because I wanted to experience the language and the culture. Throughout high school I had been fascinated by the Middle East; this was my chance to go.”
“In the focal point seminars, students are introduced to multiple methods of academic inquiry — in my class, those would be history, archaeology, anthropology, and geography,” says Warren Schultz, professor, History, and associate dean, Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.
“Jordan holds the physical remains of 8,000 years of history. Before we go there, each student becomes an expert of a particular place — the ancient city of Jerash or the medieval fortress of Ajlun, the desert castles of Harranah and Amra, Mt. Nebo, or the archeological site of Petra — and then delivers a mini-lecture when we’re on site. FY@broad is a serious academic endeavor; real work gets done before, during, and after the trip.”
“We’d read about a site in class, then BAM! It’s right there. We were standing in history,” says Alexander. “Before this class, I had never been out of the country; now, I’m an International Studies major.”
Magdalyne Christakis signed up for the class to Jordan because it fit her interests exactly: “I’m majoring in anthropology with a focus on archeology. In fact, it’s this class — which I heard about during orientation — that made me decide to come to DePaul. You can read about a place, but until you see it, you really can’t understand it.”
“You’re not in Kansas anymore”
Just as important as the academic content in FY@broad is the travel experience itself.
Each class includes five sessions on how to travel internationally. Stephanie Halaska, assistant director in the Driehaus College of Business Undergraduate Programs Office, covered this material for Crypts and Castles: “Jordan” in World History. “We teach them how to travel properly so they can be goodwill ambassadors, representing both DePaul and the United States.”
“The program is all about helping students become world travelers in the broadest sense — to get them to understand how to act in unfamiliar environments, how to get around, and how to interact with people who are different because of history, ethnicity, or language,” says Woesthoff. “One focus in my class is the role of immigrants — especially the Turks — in shaping today’s Berlin. How are their communities different? What is their culture and how can we understand it? Are certain ideas a hindrance or a help in crossing cultural boundaries?”
For Amadi Pate, the trip to Berlin was her first time to Europe: “After the trip, I felt confident: this kind of travel — learn as much as you can, then just go! — is something I can do, and it’s something I want to do again.”
Maggie Gallagher appreciated the camaraderie that grew from the shared experience: “The students on the trip to Jordan became my close friends; after eight days in close quarters, we really got to know each other. And freshman year was a perfect time to go because it made me feel part of the DePaul community.”
A bigger education
“FY@broad can be a transformative experience,” says Schultz. “Students gain an appreciation for the fact that knowledge is sequential. First, they read something in class. Then, they experience the information in a different way — on the ground. When they read that same text again, they understand it in a new way. The text hasn’t changed; the students have. I think that is a really important lesson.”
Halaska appreciates the role of FY@broad in light of the university’s strategic goals:
“As we ‘internationalize’ the curriculum, every chance we get to incorporate the big picture in a student’s education is an advantage. At DePaul, an international experience can happen right away, and it can happen repeatedly. Our blended ‘inside/outside the classroom’ experiences help students figure out who they are and what they want to do. Those who participate in FY@broad set themselves up for a very rewarding subsequent three years because they become so engaged in their own educations.”
Schaffer concludes, “I think that FY@broad, like Discover Chicago, could become a model for how to do it right.”
Any faculty member interested in running a FY@broad class should contact the Study Abroad Program office.