Monday, February 9, 2009

Tell Students to Go Away!

There is a lot I could say in response to the faculty development day and the call for more globalization of the curriculum at Wheaton.  For now, I will put forward just one thing: study abroad.

We are all aware, I believe, of the lack of study abroad opportunities at Wheaton.  Summer programs are important and should be supported, but they do not approach the level of immersion possible for students on 4-5 month study programs in which they are living with local families, enrolled at national universities, and possibly studying in another language.  Wheaton need not develop its own programs, but could partner with other Christian schools, such as Calvin, Westmont, and so forth, to financially support current programs in exchange for guaranteed spots.  By placing a particular number of students off campus each year, the size of the student body could actually be increased by that many students, which would more than pay for the support of the programs.

Several years ago, during a fall semester, I was told that 80 students out of 2500 were studying off campus. That included Wheaton in Chicago and HNGR students.  Anthropology students really need to have an off-campus field experience.  International Relations, foreign languages and many others would benefit.  Our students, in general, need these experiences.

Wheaton in Chicago and HNGR are outstanding programs.  HNGR has no room for growth, however, and Wheaton in Chicago is constrained as well.  Furthermore, students need more options than these two.   

This is a modest proposal to address a serious shortcoming in our curriculum in the short run.  My word to my colleagues is to educate yourselves about the opportunities that currently exist for our students (BestSemester, Houghton in Tanzania, ISDSI's semester in Thailand, Calvin's semesters in Ghana and Honduras, etc.) and begin pushing first year students to consider these early on in planning their course schedules.  I believe one of the biggest impediments to students studying abroad is a lack of awareness and a campus ethos which discourages innovative or creative thinking about curricular scheduling.  Having an advisor ask, "Have you thought about when you might do study abroad?" would go a long way towards getting larger numbers of students to put it on their mental radar early in their career.  This is one thing we can do without more funding or administrative action.  Let's get our students out there! 

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