HEN YOU THINK OF AN econ major, the usual cliché is someone hunched over Adam Smith in a library carrel, not elbow deep in lobsters, taking pointers from Norberto, a Mexican fisherman, on cleaning freshly caught crustaceans.
Yet sleeves pushed back, crouched in the sand, Los Angeles native Miwa Tamanaha was very much immersed in her discipline last fall as she plucked antennae and scraped roe from a heap of shellfish on a beach in Mexico. The experience was part and parcel of her 14-week study abroad program, encompassing three USC-approved courses and an independent field research project in a hybrid science called natural resource economics. Her textbook: some 30 pescadores who trawl the pristine waters off Baja California. Her classroom: the village of Puerto San Carlos, where government officials may soon impose a four-month closed season on crabbing that could deal an economic blow to the tiny fishing community.
People dont really think of economics and environmental studies being linked, but economics is just the process of valuing things. Its really a tool, says Tamanaha. This was a way to put my learning into practice for people whose lives are really impacted by it.
Dipping into her economists toolkit, she may well have influenced the lives of the fishermen she met and befriended in Mexico. The crab is Puerto San Carlos bread-and-butter, but without restrictions it might share the fate of the Catarina scallop, which Baja fishermen harvested nearly to the point of extermination in the 1960s. Both scallops and shrimp are now heavily regulated, and poaching carries harsh penalties.
These resources that are supposed to be renewable are being exploited, says Tamanaha, who completed joint bachelors and masters degrees in economics last May. But youre also looking at people who have a subsistence lifestyle: when you dont allow them to fish, you cut off their livelihood. Its a big ethical problem.
MIWA TAMANAHA REPRESENTS one of the many new faces of study abroad. Although her experience is by no means representative of all or even the majority of overseas learning experiences, thats precisely the point. What sticks out about study abroad on the cusp of the new millennium is its amazing diversity. Never have so many students from so many disciplines and majors covered so much geographical terrain in the pursuit of such a plethora of educational goals.
True, most Trojans who take advantage of the 38 approved semester and year-long international programs offered through the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences go for the same reason students have always gone abroad: to master a second language and try on a new culture. Of the roughly 200 USC students enrolled this year under the auspices of the Colleges Office of Overseas Studies (the main study abroad organizer on campus), 71 percent stuck with traditional Western European destinations. The United Kingdom, Spain and France were the top picks a preference that conforms with national trends, according to the Institute of Interna-tional Education, a leading educational and cultural exchange organization.
But look a little closer, and youll see portents of change. In the past 15 years, Europes share in U.S. study abroad enrollments has dropped from 80 percent to 64 percent, the most recent national figure according to IIEs 1997/1998 Open Doors report. Mean-while Latin Americas share has doubled, from 7 percent to 15 percent.
Even more telling is the explosion in volume. Twice as many Americans earn college credit overseas today than in 1988: the tally now stands at 113,959 students a year. Despite shifts in geographical preferences, all regions are attracting greater numbers of U.S. college kids. In one year, overseas study traffic to Canada jumped by 41 percent; Africa rose 20 percent; the Middle East, 18 percent; Latin America, 17 per-cent; and Europe, Asia and Oceania, 13 percent each. Nationally, one out of 10 undergraduates now go abroad in the course of their four-year post-secondary education.
A STRONG DOLLAR, the digital Information explosion, the political opening of many once-closed frontiers these all play a part in the groundswell. So does a new, enlightened attitude in academe.
Theres a general trend across the country to encourage students to go abroad, for obvious reasons, says Jane Cody, associate dean of academic programs and the Colleges point-person for study abroad. The world is getting smaller and smaller. One needs no matter what field one is in to be able to deal with cultural difference. Theres no substitute for experiencing it by going abroad.
Historically, overseas study was the domain of language and literature students, says the Colleges dean of academic programs Sarah Pratt. She points to her own case: 30 years ago, as a Russian major at Yale, she did a semester abroad in what was then Leningrad. But the reasons for that are so obvious, says Pratt, a professor of Slavic languages. Whats significant now is that pre-med students, communications and psychology majors are going abroad.
At USC, as at most cosmopolitan universities, the explanation boils down to a familiar buzz word: globalization. Exposure to foreign customs, languages and practices is no longer just icing on a liberal education. Its relevant to any career you might have, says Pratt. Wherever you go, youre going to need to understand cultures and peoples and practices that arent you.
More and more companies are international, notes study abroad expert Gary Rhodes, who directs the USC Center for Global Education a U.S. Depart-ment of Education-funded clearinghouse for overseas study resources. Youve seen it in business, now youre starting to see it in engineering, he says. Employment opportunities with major U.S. companies now exist all over the world. Indeed, one of the big challenges facing American businesses is finding qualified people to staff their international offices. Recruiters eagerly seek out candidates who can speak a foreign tongue and who are open to spending part of their career overseas. In this environment, Rhodes says, study abroad is a value-added on a students resumé.
USC administrators are well aware of the trend. When the Provosts Office unveiled USCs 1994 Strategic Plan the blueprint for developing the university internationalization was one of its four chief mandates.
One of the best ways to learn about the world is to experience it, says vice provost for international affairs Richard Drobnick, a management professor at the USC Marshall School of Business and director of that schools pioneering Center for International Business Edu-cation and Research. We can do some of that on campus with visiting lecturers, reading and the Internet. But to actually live in a different culture is a very powerful way to learn about it, about our own culture, and about our own ability to absorb different ideas, Drobnick says. Wed like to see many more USC students being challenged by an overseas learning experience. The president, the provost and the deans think this is important.
USC'S RECENT EFFORTS to promote study abroad have already paid off. According to Rhodes, who tracks and reports the universitys study abroad figures to outside agencies, all told, 666 Trojans went overseas in 1999. By the end of 2000, he expects the number to top 800 and keep growing.
Some glaring obstacles to a flourishing study abroad climate at USC have been eliminated. For example, as of 1999 students automatically remain in the housing lottery while abroad (formerly, many returned to campus to find they had nowhere to live.) The Internet has been a godsend to globe-trotting undergrads. A Web-based course catalog and schedule of classes, online access to academic records and degree progress info, and effortless email communication with advisors, department administrators and faculty make it easy for Trojans to keep all their ducks in a row as they travel, and to jump right back into the pond upon their return.
Take Sandra Sharkie Byrnes, who went to Athens for her spring semester. While abroad, she decided to switch her major from theater design to political science and did so, via email. Many of her courses in Greece, she was pleased to discover, counted toward her new degree emphasis. As the term drew to a close, Byrnes felt she wasnt ready to go home yet. Working through advisors Peter Hilton and Alison Easterling at the overseas studies office, she arranged to continue her coursework this fall in Nairobi. Much of the transatlantic legwork applications, fees, visa, student advising was handled electronically.
Once I was abroad, I realized there was so much more I had to see, says the well-traveled junior (in an email interview, natch). I started researching programs on the Web. I had found one in Ghana that seemed of interest; then Peter [Hilton] informed me of a program in Nairobi that I could do through USC. It sounded great, so I seized the opportunity.
Besides bending over backwards to serve students, the overseas studies office strives to increase its visibility. Formerly hidden around six corners in Taper Hall, according to Pratt, it used to be really hard to find. You really, really had to want to get there. Now the office shares space with college advisement, the frequent haunt of undecided majors and pre-health and pre-professional students.
We put overseas study there to make a statement: that any USC student should at least consider the option of going overseas, says Pratt. To drive the point home, the two offices common waiting area is plastered with posters of foreign lands. One wall is dotted with airport-style clocks set to the current time in Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo, São Paulo and Nairobi.
The small staff of overseas advisors serve as tireless missionaries of foreign study. To recruit more participants, they hit every student fair, every foreign language course, every major student organization. They also make a yearly direct-pitch to all sophomores with 3.0 or higher GPAs, sending out thousands of bright red brochures with a cover letter that begins: Congratulations, you are eligible for study abroad.
Participation is now at an all-time high, but College administrators wont be satisfied until it doubles. Theyve set a target of 400 to 500 students a year within the next five years, according to Hilton. We need to build up institutional momentum word-of-mouth reports from students coming back and saying how great it was, he says. Once you develop a history, it snowballs.
By rights, it should cause an avalanche. With all its other advantages, studying in a foreign country is also generally cheaper than staying right here. Thats because students pay the host institutions tuition usually lower than USCs plus a small administrative service fee. Most can continue to receive USC financial aid. Board and bed whether in a host family, a university dorm or independent lodging is often included. The only extras are air fare and other miscellaneous travel expenses.
But obstacles remain. Summer study currently isnt eligible for financial aid. Nor can students ordinarily use study abroad courses to fulfill General Education requirements. In an age when English is increasingly business and academes lingua franca, foreign language prerequisites may hinder some students who would otherwise gladly go abroad, says Slavic languages professor Marcus Levitt. Policies like these are now under discussion as USC officials seek to boost study abroad participation to even higher levels.
THE UNIVERSITY'S DECENTRALIZEDcharacter presents perhaps the biggest challenge. Programs endorsed by the Colleges Office of Overseas Studies dont necessarily articulate administrative jargon for count toward a major or minor if youre an undergrad in one of USCs bachelors degree-granting professional schools. This can be a major hitch for, say, engineering and business students, whose heavy load of required courses doesnt leave enough electives to do a semester abroad and still graduate on time.
This is the catch-22 that Sara Geisler faced. An Austin, Texas, native, Geisler originally chose USC for three reasons: its outstanding biomedical engineering program, its Berlin study abroad program (a rarity, she found) and, of course, the fabled Trojan network.
When I got to college, I realized how limited my options were by my major. Frustration set in early, she recalls. Forced to choose, Geisler dropped engineering, which freed her to pursue her German studies and the much-longed-for Berlin semester. (She graduated in May, with a German major and a natural sciences minor. Asked what she plans to do next, she replies without hesitation: I want to go to Berlin for a couple of years, until Im absolutely perfect with my German.)
Not that foreign study options dont exist for professional students. Far from it. Had Geisler yearned for London or Paris, she could have gone with the engineering schools blessing on a six-week summer excursion that would have fulfilled her thermodynamics requirement and given her independent research credit for a project at IBM, Apple, Bechtel or a similar multinational powerhouse.
Every other summer, about 25 engineering undergraduates take this program, says assistant dean Louise Yates. Engineering undergraduates also can and about 10 a year do spend a sem-ester or a year at the University of Edinburgh, the University of Sussex or the Australian National University in Canberra. The school has signed off on these programs administered by the Colleges Office of Overseas Study, and three more programs in Hong Kong, Spain and Melbourne, Australia are under discussion.
Thats a start, but it hardly makes a dent in USCs 1,700-strong engineering major. Yates, who oversees the schools student affairs office, acknowledges the importance of exposing future engineers to international practices. Every large engineering company has facilities overseas now. More than any other field, engineering is a profession where workers will spend time overseas, she says.
Impeding study abroad enrollments, however, is the marketability of these students before they even graduate. Engineering students can easily find summer jobs that pay $20 an hour starting sophomore year, says Yates. From their perspective, study abroad is a choice between spending money and making money. Thats our competition.
So far, USC professional schools have stopped short of making study abroad mandatory for undergraduates, but some have gone the extra mile to make it as attractive as possible for their majors. Indeed, the Colleges Office of Overseas Studies, though it welcomes students from all USC schools, today processes only a quarter of traveling Trojans (15 years ago, it was practically the only game in town). The remaining three-fourths go through a jumble of departmental summer programs, professional school-based offerings and an increasing array of special seminars and research projects.
Foreign language departments are the obvious place youd expect these independent programs to flourish, and they do. Every year, the French and Italian department runs month-long courses in Dijon, France, and Verona, Italy; Spanish and Portuguese has a seven-week program in Madrid. This summer, Slavic languages organized an ethnographic exploration of small Siberian villages. Upstart programs are cropping up in less likely places too: in June, the geography department took a group of students on a 21-day virtual mapping expedition through Western Europe. The USC Annenberg School of Communication offered a new graduate course on reporting in South Africa. Taught by a visiting South African journalism professor, the class culminated in summer reporting internships in Cape Town. The School of Policy, Planning, and Development recently dispatched graduate students on a four-week problem-solving trip to Fez, Morocco, where they concentrated on the medina (the ancient quarter) thats currently undergoing historic reconstruction. Another Policy, Planning, and Development seminar involves a two-week foreign research excursion. Last years group went to Dortmund, an industrial city in Germanys Ruhr Valley thats a prime example of adaptive reuse that is, turning factories into parks.