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A Global Reach for Advisers
For years, Rick Roth has encouraged students to study abroad. In September, he followed his own advice.
Roth was one of 18 UW advisers to participate in Exploration Seminars — month-long study abroad programs offered between summer and autumn quarter. The seminars were introduced in 2003 to encourage more students to study internationally. Advisers were invited to participate this year.
“We were looking for ways to spread the message about Exploration Seminars to students,” says Paul LePore, assistant dean for educational programs. “We asked ourselves, ‘Who would we want to invite along, who could then share what these programs are all about?’ Advisers made the most sense. They are the first connection that many students have to UW learning communities. They are a tremendous resource.”
Exploration Seminars explore a subject in depth. Roth, adviser for the Department of Geography, traveled to India for an Exploration Seminar on social justice; other seminars cover everything from Islam to renewable energy in countries from Turkey to New Zealand. The seminars are particularly welcome for students who cannot dedicate an entire quarter to study abroad due to academic or personal obligations. Because the seminars are offered between quarters, they are an easier fit.
The Most Intense Experience
Advisers joined the seminars for about two weeks—enough time to get a sense of the experience without falling too far behind at work. For many, the first few days of acclimation were the most memorable.
“The education started at our doorstep,” recalls Roth of the seminar in Bangalore. “India comes at you fast and furious. There are so many juxtapositions—moments of beauty, hair-raising traffic, and images of abject poverty. You can’t assimilate it. Things are just so different and poignant. It’s the most intense experience I’ve ever had.”
Students in the program were equally moved. Some were able to absorb what they were seeing right away; others were simply overwhelmed. “I wish I could have stayed to watch them evolve over the next few weeks,” says Roth.
Diane Guerra, a Department of Anthropology adviser who traveled to Senegal and Gambia, was overwhelmed even before setting foot on the airplane. “I had to get six vaccinations before the trip,” she says. “As I was going through all the shots, I thought, ‘Why did I decide to do this?’”
Not that Guerra would have considered backing out. She saw this as the trip of a lifetime. “For me, this trip was both professionally and personally valuable. As an adviser, the trip gave me an opportunity to connect with a group of students. As an African American, it was a pilgrimage—a chance to go to where my ancestors came from.” Particularly compelling for Guerra was the opportunity to visit Gorée Island, the center of the West African slave trade.
Arriving in Senegal, the first thing Guerra noticed was that, for once, she was not in the minority. “Everybody was black—on the streets, on billboards, in ads,” she says. “That was new for me. It was an incredible feeling.” She only wished her group had more minority students with whom to share the experience.
Mary Harty, a Department of Chemistry adviser who traveled to Costa Rica, went on the seminar to learn what’s involved in organizing one. Her department’s year-long course sequences make international study difficult; Harty thinks the shorter Exploration Seminars may be the perfect solution.
“I went on the trip to be the eyes and ears of my department, watching how to do this,” she says. “We’d like to offer something site specific that would be pertinent to chemistry majors.”
Harty discovered that leading an Exploration Seminar is a big job. She watched as the professor juggled small crises—some logistical, some emotional—on a daily basis. “It was good to see him in action,” she says. “It’s good as a novice to see what you have to be up for.”
Harty was particularly impressed with the seminar’s balance of class work, field trips, and unstructured time, during which students could explore independently. “I’d like our seminar to achieve that same balance,” says Harty. “It gave me a sense of things to incorporate.”
While colleagues were hiking through rainforests, visiting a slave house, and navigating teeming streets, Cynthia Caci was tackling an equally daunting challenge: the Louvre. Caci, adviser in Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS), joined an Exploration Seminar in Paris.
Unlike her colleagues who attended the beginning of a seminar, Caci arrived for the second half. She missed seeing students grapple with culture shock, but she got to see how things work when a group hits its stride. “By the time I arrived, the students and professor had a good mutual understanding about the rhythm of the seminar and what was expected of them,” says Caci.
Although she was there as a participant rather than adviser, Caci did her share of advising during the trip. Students sought her out to discuss possible majors and programs they might pursue. And the professor, after two weeks on her own, welcomed the opportunity to talk with Caci about how things were going.
“The faculty who lead these seminars are teachers, resident advisers, security enforcement—they wear a lot of hats in this situation,” says Caci. “I think the professor was grateful to be able to talk things through, because until then it had just been the students and her.”
By late September, all the advisers were back in Seattle. Their trips are now a distant memory, but all feel changed by the experience. They have a message for students: when it comes to study abroad, find a way to do it.
“I think I’ll be more of an advocate for international study as a result of this experience,” says Roth. “When students tell me that they want to study the developing world, I’m going to really impress upon them that they have to go to the developing world. You can’t grasp the issues by reading about them in a book.”
It’s not that Roth wasn’t advocating for study abroad before, but now he can speak from experience. “In the past, I would offer generalities about it being a good experience,” he says. “Now I am much clearer about why students should do it.”
Roth will also advise students to read up on a country’s history and culture before embarking on their journey. “One big message I got from the trip is that students get so much more out of what they see if they come prepared,” he says. “Some sort of follow-up upon return would be good as well.”
Caci agrees. She refers to those pre- and post-trip assignments as “bookends,” and says they are almost as important as the seminar itself. “Having assignments ahead of time and then looking back after the trip to see what you’ve learned from the experience is extremely useful,” she says. “After all, why take people abroad? It’s not just about being abroad; it’s about what you learn about yourself by being in a different context. That is what students will really take away from it.”
Paul LePore is thrilled that advisers are now eager to steer more students toward study abroad. That was, after all, the motivation for sending them around the globe. The advisers’ trips were funded by the College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of International Programs and Exchanges, and the Office of Global Affairs.
“I thought it was really visionary to send staff on these trips,” says Harty. “Advisers, in particular, make sense because we can communicate the experience to students. When you study abroad, you put on glasses and see things differently. You see other cultures differently. It reduces the sense of ‘other.’ It’s transformational. And isn’t that really what education should be about?”