SU’s Study Abroad Curriculum is the ‘Gold Standard’

Susquehanna’s award-winning Global Opportunities program is unlike any other in the country, though it was implemented at a time when more and more students were studying abroad.

When Susquehanna launched GO in 2009, more than 260,000 U.S. students studied abroad for academic credit, according to the Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. By the 2016–17 academic year (most recent data), that number had increased nearly 30%.

University President Jonathan D. Green, himself an avid traveler with a long history of supporting international education, remembers “envying Susquehanna when they announced that all students would have a study-away experience.

“Having been deeply involved in international education for many years, I have seen the myriad ways in which these experiences transform students. Study abroad helps students to become more independent and self-sufficient, it gives them a framework to appreciate and better understand the context of their own culture and history,” Green says, “and when delivered in Susquehanna’s model, it strengthens their intercultural competence and gives them an enhanced ability to appreciate and celebrate difference.”

What distinguishes Susquehanna’s program from others is two-fold — study away is a graduation requirement pinned to a pair of bookended, credit-bearing courses taught by professors. One sevenweek course prepares students for their experiences and the other is a reflection course specifically tailored to the program’s academic and personal development goals.

“It’s the gold standard in the field of study abroad,” says David Imhoof, professor of history and director of curriculum for Susquehanna’s GO program. “It’s what allows us to connect GO with the university’s Central Curriculum.”

The preparatory courses students take before they embark on their experience familiarize them with the country they’re about to visit in practical ways — What is their currency? What laws should I be aware of? What is relevant in their culture now? What is happening politically?

Senior Julie Ehm’s New Zealand prep course taught her about the long history of the country’s indigenous Maori people. “What we learned translated in our experience there,” Ehm says. “The Maori culture today, in their carried-on traditions, speaks volumes to their heritage and values and what makes all cultures so special. This experience really opened my eyes to not just seeing a culture but being immersed in it.”

The pre-travel course also prepares students for their post-experience reflection by asking them to consider how their crosscultural experience is changing their preconceived notions of the world.

“So many Americans develop their views of other cultures with almost no direct personal experience,” says David Richard, London native and professor of biology at Susquehanna. Richard leads two GO programs — one to Australia and one to Nepal. He was on the ground floor of GO’s genesis more than 10 years ago.

“Study abroad presents the opportunity to counter this by exposing students to other cultures that can help to develop their understanding of what it means to be different,” he says.

After students return to campus, they are required to assess their time away.

Imhoof thinks of this process as an onion, with the first layer being the more superficial, Instagram-able moments students remember. Deeper understanding comes through additional programming like that offered by the Career Development Center, which teaches students how to market their cross-cultural experience to potential employers. The reflection process comes full circle when students can articulate how their experience changed them and the way they view the world.

Judith Goltz ’11 had traveled internationally before her GO Japan program but had never taken the time to “step back to observe and appreciate the intricate details of different cultures.

“By reflecting on the differences, I learned more about myself and what I want to give back to the world,” Goltz says. “Now, nine years later, I am living and teaching in Jordan.”

It’s possible some students won’t travel internationally after the conclusion of their GO program, but their immersion in another culture while an SU student is something that can broaden their worldview for the rest of their lives.

“Sometimes these experiences get shoeboxed and then they’re only pulled out at certain times,” Imhoof says. “We want students to think about, what can I bring back to the culture I live in now? It forces them to think in concrete ways about what was great about their experience and how they can make that part of their life moving forward.” 

By Amanda O'Rourke

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