'Globalization with a bite'New study-abroad program teaches culture by sending students to source
By Jennifer Vanasco
Some fortunate College students are spending winter quarter in sunny Barcelona, Spain, enjoying total immersion in the Spanish culture -- and fulfilling the Civilizational Studies core requirement in a single quarter.
"What better place to study Spain than Spain itself?" said Philippe Desan, the Howard L. Willett Professor in Romance Languages & Literatures and Master of the Humanities Collegiate Division. "Other people talk about cultural studies, but at the University we are doing cultural studies."
The Barcelona program is just one-third of a new University study-abroad program that includes Tours, France, and, beginning in autumn quarter 1999, Rome. Undergraduates may spend autumn quarter in Rome, winter quarter in Barcelona, or spring quarter in Tours, while taking three classes in Civilizational Studies and a course in conversational language.
More advanced students can study in Tours during the other quarters, either to study language intensively or to take Civilizational Studies in a foreign language. Right now, for instance, College students in Tours are fulfilling the requirement by taking classes in French. The classes, which are exclusively for Chicago students, are taught mostly by University faculty.
"This is globalization with a bite," said John Boyer, Dean of the College. "I hope that in time such programs will be seen as one of the special features of the College.
"This is an imaginative way to integrate the study of civilizations with fascinating cross-cultural learning opportunities, and it adds increased flexibility to the schedule of students. We hope that, eventually, about one-half of each graduating class will spend some time studying abroad." He added that the Civilizational Studies study-abroad program is only the beginning of a series of innovations planned to improve students' grasp of foreign language and culture.
Presently, 31 students are studying in the Barcelona program, although Boyer thinks that the number might be increased to 50 next year, since students have shown great interest in the program. The success of the Barcelona segment, which started in winter quarter 1997, is partly what encouraged the inauguration of the Tours spring quarter, which debuts this year, and the Rome autumn quarter.
One advanced student who is currently fulfilling his Civilizational Studies requirement in Tours is third-year Glen Hyman.
As part of the non-academic portion of the program, Hyman and several other students last quarter explored a 200-year-old family bakery in Tours.
Jacques Mahou has been a bread maker for about 30 years, Hyman said, and his family has been baking bread for more than 10 generations.
"Baking bread is in his blood and he loves what he is doing," Hyman said in a telephone interview from Tours. "I thought it would be interesting to tap into that."
Fascinated by the smell of baking bread and the affinity Mahou had with the dough, Hyman asked to be an apprentice. After passing muster for two nights, Mahou agreed to take him on. Now Hyman bakes bread about one night each week.
"It feels satisfying to be kneading the dough," he said. "To work the dough and throw it and make it come together -- it develops a character. And then you can eat it, which is the best part!
"It's much more tangible than working for four years and writing a dissertation that I'd probably use for a paperweight."
Hyman says the civilizations program in all its parts has been a great opportunity for him. He began learning French in July, and now is able to read complex texts. He has been so immersed in the language that in an interview he stumbled now and then over finding the right words in English.
The opportunity to work with Mahou is an added benefit, he said.
"This is something that he loves and people don't often do what they love," Hyman said. "I wanted to be a part of this."
Desan said, "You see? This is the kind of cultural experience students should have."