Related Stories

Overseeing Overseas Study

Traveling Business Class

A Two_Way Street

Related Links

USC Study Abroad Programs

THE HARD SCIENCES have been slower to come around. There’s a grand tradition of basic and applied scientists looking down their noses at study abroad, says psychobiology chair Bill McClure. McClure recalls an incident a decade ago when an student asked him to write a letter of recommendation to complete her study abroad application. “I said: ‘OK, if you want to waste your time, I will.’ Typical scientific attitude!” he huffs, indignant over his own past narrow-mindedness.
The next time McClure saw that particular student, she was, in his words, “a different woman.” Three months overseas had wrought a profound change in style, in the way she carried herself. “She even asked different questions,” he says. “The maturing effect of time abroad is tremendous.”
Since this epiphany, McClure has become one of USC’s most ardent study abroad advocates. As faculty advisor to the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, McClure pushes foreign study so hard that one semester the sisters had trouble keeping the house full, with seven out of 60 residents overseas. “I thought that was wonderful,” he says.
But of what use is this “maturing effect” to a budding scientist?
“It’s probably more important for science study than any other major,” McClure contends, “because it is so easy for scientists to get lost in the details of our day-to-day work. Going abroad helps get over that.”
He points to Roxanne Aga, a psychobiology major who graduated this spring. Aga had been pre-med before her Caribbean summer study program. After seeing conditions in the tropics, she realized that introducing modern industrialized medicine wasn’t nearly as important to this region as draining swamps and stockpiling antibiotics. Inspired by her experience, Aga put off her M.D. plans and is instead entering a master’s in tropical bacteriology program at Tulane University that culminates in a Peace Corps stint. “Her whole life has been modified,” McClure says.
Even the most trivial aspects of foreign study can be transformational. For biology major RoseLynn Kenny, it was the rediscovery of books that made
her University of Edinburgh semester remarkable. “The style of teaching was totally different,” she wrote in the six-page program evaluation that the overseas studies office asks all returning students to complete. “I found myself spending hours at a time in the library reading – not a normal activity for a science major but a habit I will continue.”
Another ardent advocate of study abroad for both social and natural science majors is Sheldon Kamieniecki, founding director of USC’s highly respected Environmental Studies Program. Some 20 years ago, Kamieniecki went to bat for undergraduates in this interdisciplinary major, lobbying to include environmental field experiences among the College’s study abroad options. The result is USC’s longstanding partnership with the independent School for Field Studies, which maintains study centers focusing on rainforest, marine or coastal studies, wildlife management and wetland research in Australia, Kenya, Canada, the British West Indies, Costa Rica and Mexico. It was one of these programs that sent Miwa Tamanaha to Baja California to explore the economics of crabbing.
Living conditions are basic. In the Kenyan program – the most extreme example – students stay in a rural area along the Athi River, sleeping in grass thatched bandas and relying on kero-sene for light. Yet the students who go on these trips rarely complain.
“I always tell my students that, in 10 years, they’ll forget 90 percent of what they learned in the classroom – including in mine,” says Kamieniecki, a professor of political science. “But they’ll never forget the experiences of that semester abroad. Being in the jungle, watching these life forms interact with each other, is an experience that one cannot get in a classroom in VKC. This is something unique, something very special.”

MANY AT USC'S PROFESSIONAL SCHOOLS are of the same opinion. That’s why the USC Marshall School of Business, for example, maintains formal undergraduate exchange programs with five top B-schools in Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Budapest and Singapore. The number of juniors or seniors taking advantage of these semester abroad possibilities is growing fast. It currently attracts about 40 students a year, up from just a dozen in 1998. Administra-tors are keen to send even more, but they face special challenges.
“The business student’s course structure is pretty inflexible,” explains Kazi Mamun, director of Marshall School undergraduate student affairs. There’s little room for electives or foreign languages. Every class has to count toward the degree. That means each partner B-school has to be a perfect match: academically on a par with USC, offering upper-division courses in all Marshall School concentration areas, and giving English-language instruction.
Students from arts schools also figure prominently in USC’s foreign study stats. This year, about 20 theatre majors went abroad, plus 20 more from cinema-TV, music and fine arts.
One such student is Joe Alterio, a cinema student eager to “get away from the Hollywood ghouls.” Last year, Alterio went to Prague for a semester at Charles University. There, he took a course that left him “stunned and amazed by Czech animation.” Taught by the president of the Czech film board, a successful animation filmmaker in his own right, the course prompted Alterio to switch gears from feature production to animation. Now working for Nickelodeon, Alterio, who graduated in May, says he’s thinking about going back to Europe to work in a foreign animation house, such as Don Bluth in London. One thing is certain: “I want animation to be my field,” he says.
The College’s overseas studies office has an equally dead-on program in London geared specifically for hard-core acting students.
Clearly in a league of their own, however, are the USC Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Architecture, which both strive mightily to foster overseas exploration.
The Annenberg School runs its own USC Study Center in London, offering a half-dozen journalism and communication courses and attracting about 30 students a semester. Annenberg undergrads can also choose to take a semester-long program at the University of Amsterdam, the Chinese University of Hong Kong or Nanyang Technological University in Singapore: each school is noted for its excellence in communication. Plus Annenberg runs its own six-week summer programs in London, Paris, Geneva and Prague, focused on public relations and media management as they exist in these European cities.
“We need to prepare our students for a world where a totally U.S.-perspective would be limiting,” says communication professor and associate dean Tom Hollihan, “and ultimately, to get them placed in better jobs.” The globalization of mass media and the ascendance of English as the 21st century’s world language “gives us a strategic advantage,” he argues.
Currently, the Annenberg School sends fewer than 100 students abroad a year. It’s not enough, says Hollihan. “Our goal is to get about 25 percent of our [1,100] students overseas for at least one semester. We’re not there yet, but we’re hopeful.”
Architecture passed that milestone some time ago. For nearly a decade, it has sent groups of 15 third- and fourth-year students on its semester programs in Saintes, France and Como, Italy. In 1997, at the urging of professor James Steele, who has a particular interest in Asian architecture, the school added a third program in Malaysia, with side trips to Japan and Taiwan. Today, about half of all USC architecture students take one of these popular excursions during their five-year bachelor’s programs, says the school’s academic affairs advisor Ron Andrade.

THIS BEGS THE INTRINGUING QUESTION how much study abroad is enough? Given today’s near-universal agreement that study abroad is an unqualified good, 100 percent participation isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Last year, Open Doors reported that St. Olaf College and Kalamazoo College led American institutions with 94.3 percent of students participating in study abroad. Those are tiny liberal arts colleges, however. Among research institutions, the school to beat is Michigan State University, which sends a total of 1,454 students abroad in a year.
Be careful what you wish for, though. Study abroad has the potential to rock the system if it keeps mounting. When Russian literature professor Marcus Levitt, who chairs the overseas studies panel of the Academic Senate’s Curriculum Committee, served on a review panel of Pomona College, he found that the private liberal arts college sends 50 percent of its students abroad. “Half the students are not on campus at one time or another,” Levitt points out. That means 12 percent of students are gone all the time. Such a high level of participation affects everything from dorm vacancies to a university’s operating budget. “If we got to a point where a really large number of students were going abroad, then indeed we would have to do some different planning on admissions and housing,” says Drobnick. “It would require some institutional adjustment. However, this would be a positive and relatively easy ‘problem’ to adjust to.”
What’s harder to anticipate is how individual students will react to overseas experiences, that are, by definition, idiosyncratic. Expectations and outcomes vary greatly. Some use it to challenge themselves. “I’m a chicken, I can’t even play volleyball,” says Sandra Ko, an IR and political science double-major who spent a term at the Australian National University. Once overseas, Ko threw herself into more than her studies. “I tried scuba diving, skydiving, I took road trips by myself,” she says. “It made me more courageous.
“Right now, I’ll be willing to try everything,” adds Ko, who also interned in the Australian parliament in Canberra, working on the re-election campaign of Melbourne senator Kay Patterson.
USC’s international students, when they opt to study abroad, often head for a nation neighboring their homeland. That’s what business and Asian language double-major David Lau ’99 did when he spent a year at Waseda Uni-versity in Tokyo. Studying in Japan “had been my dream since I was a little kid,” says Lau, a native of Hong Kong. “I watched Japanese animation and comics, I went to Japan on vacation with my parents many times, and just loved it there.” Now a financial advisor in the L.A. offices of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Lau still dreams of Japan. In 10 years time, he figures, he may return to start his own business.
Some, like IR major Veronica Medina, have very specific goals. A Mexican-American who was “already perfectly fluent in Spanish,” Medina chose
to study in Brazil because it meshed well with her academic focus – Latin American development – while providing a chance to acquire a new language. After a crash course in Portuguese for Spanish-speakers, Medina enrolled in regular courses at the Universidade de São Paulo – taking on topics like Marxist theory, international law and contemporary Brazilian society.
“Going into it, I thought, ‘My God, I’m not going to survive,’” recalls Medina, who graduated in May. After her initial panic (“the professor’s going too fast! Am I missing concepts?”) the language came quickly. Soon she was speaking her mind in and out of class. “I’m a chatterbox. I kept talking even if people couldn’t quite understand what I was saying,”she says. By the time she sat for her final exams, Medina could write academic prose in flowing if not error-free Portuguese.

AS UPLIFTING AS SUCH STORIES ARE, foreign immersion comes not without an emotional cost. Many students returning from overseas have a hard time with “re-entry” – academic jargon for re-acclimating themselves to their former life in the United States. Some never quite adjust, or don’t even want to try.
“Severe culture shock” is how Brian Livingston describes his return in July 1999 after spending 12 months Down Under. The Angeleno had bought a car while living in Canberra, Australia’s capital city of 300,000 people. Back home, Livingston had to relearn how to drive on the right side of the road. “It was hard to get reversed again,” he says. “I found myself getting confused at stop signs. Little things started to get to me – the traffic, the inconvenience of commuting long distances.”
Leaving behind his Australian girlfriend and other close friends also took its toll. “I had a really depressed attitude, especially when school started,” recalls Livingston, who graduated in May. “It made me long for Australia. It was like I wanted to go home.”
The feeling hasn’t faded. Livingston, a USC track athlete whose fondness for running flared into a passion during the many races he ran in Canberra, plans to move back for at least four years, get a job (any job – “wages are decent and you can support yourself easily,” he says) while he trains with his Australian coach for the 2004 Olympics.
Josh Lee, a recent graduate in economics, had some of the same problems. Returning home after a transforming experience in Edinburgh, he was frustrated to find that friends and family couldn’t relate. “Nobody here had witnessed my growth,” he says. “People didn’t want to hear my stories, they didn’t understand the significance.”
The saying “no pain, no gain” seems to apply to overseas study as it does to any other strenuous exercise. Foreign contact leaves no student unchanged or unchallenged. When they pack to go, little do these Trojans know they might be toting some heavy extra baggage on the return trip – love of a new language and culture, new friendships, perhaps a new romantic tie, revised academic ambitions and re-defined career goals, a new world outlook and a heightened self-awareness.
After coming home, however, they invariably use words like “awesome,” “incredible” or “life-changing” (that’s visual anthropology senior Jason Beck’s assessment of his semester in Harare) to describe their experience. Beck is now passionate about all things African. He actively seeks out Zimbabweans so he can practice Shona, the language he learned there. He has joined the student organization, Africa ’SC: “I’m the only white member,” he laughs.
Each has a tale to tell. Most talk earnestly about “going back.” But that’s to be expected. As Baudelaire wrote, “with hearts light as balloons, they never deviate and, not knowing why, they always say: Let’s go.”

Brian Livingston '00
Major: International relations
Background: Born in Los Angeles
Study Abroad: Year in Canberra, Australia
Future Plans: Livingston is moving to Canberra in mid-August, where he will train with his Australian coach in preparation for the 2004 Olympics.

“I was not as serious about running when I left, but Canberra was an environment that just fostered determination in me. The landscape is pristine. All the stresses are taken away. As I began to meet people, I developed ‘localitis.’ The hang-loose environment lets you focus on one thing – in my case, running. I learned to put things that are important over things that are urgent. I learned to have patience with myself, and I learned how important it is to respect the people around you.”

Sharkie Byrnes, junior
Major: Political science
Background: A foreign service brat, Byrnes was born in Louisiana and grew up in suburban Washington, D.C., Barbados and Buenos Aires
Study Abroad: Semester in Athens; this fall, she’s doing a semester in Nairobi, Kenya.
Future Plans: Byrnes plans to continue studying modern Greek. She hopes to pursue a doctoral degree before embarking on a career in diplomacy.

“Learning about Greek-Turkish relations in a class at USC nowhere compares to learning about it in Greece, especially during election time. That is what has inspired me to study abroad again next semester. I want the chance to learn about Kenya by being in Kenya. It was not part of my original plan, but when you are a college student studying abroad, there is never a plan.”

Features --All Abroad - Second Sight - Warren Bennis
Departments -- Mailbag - On Stage - What's New - In Support - Alumni News - The Last Word