||THE HARD SCIENCES have been slower to come around. Theres 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 USCs 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?
Its 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 wasnt 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 masters 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 USCs 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 Colleges study abroad options. The result is USCs 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, theyll forget 90 percent of what they learned in the classroom including in mine, says Kamieniecki, a professor of political science. But theyll 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. Thats 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 students course structure is pretty inflexible, explains Kazi Mamun, director of Marshall School undergraduate student affairs. Theres 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 USCs 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 hes 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 Colleges 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 centurys world language gives us a strategic advantage, he argues.
Currently, the Annenberg School sends fewer than 100 students abroad a year. Its not enough, says Hollihan. Our goal is to get about 25 percent of our [1,100] students overseas for at least one semester. Were not there yet, but were 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 bachelors programs, says the schools academic affairs advisor Ron Andrade.
THIS BEGS THE INTRINGUING QUESTION how much study abroad is enough? Given todays near-universal agreement that study abroad is an unqualified good, 100 percent participation isnt 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 Senates 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 universitys 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.
Whats 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. Im a chicken, I cant 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, Ill 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.
USCs international students, when they opt to study abroad, often head for a nation neighboring their homeland. Thats 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, Im not going to survive, recalls Medina, who graduated in May. After her initial panic (the professors going too fast! Am I missing concepts?) the language came quickly. Soon she was speaking her mind in and out of class. Im a chatterbox. I kept talking even if people couldnt 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 dont 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, Australias 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 hasnt 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 couldnt relate. Nobody here had witnessed my growth, he says. People didnt want to hear my stories, they didnt 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 (thats visual anthropology senior Jason Becks 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: Im the only white member, he laughs.
Each has a tale to tell. Most talk earnestly about going back. But thats to be expected. As Baudelaire wrote, with hearts light as balloons, they never deviate and, not knowing why, they always say: Lets go.