Study abroad takes students beyond books, classrooms
At the Orientation discussion "Learning Beyond the Classroom," two University deans had two words for new students: study abroad. "It might seem strange during your first week at Chicago that we are telling you to go away, but we are," said Lewis Fortner, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Foreign Studies.
Dean of the College John Boyer emphasized the personal and professional benefits of discovering a different culture and knowing a foreign language in an era of rapid globalization. As part of the recent core curriculum changes, Boyer is bolstering foreign-study programs to ensure students have plenty of opportunities to follow his advice. Currently, the College offers study-abroad programs in 28 foreign cities.
Fortner said perfecting a foreign language and expanding one's world-view lead, by contrast, to a deeper understanding of one's own culture. He noted that beyond the obvious resumE benefits, foreign study shows employers resourcefulness and a willingness to take risks. He added that returning students often feel reinvigorated after studying abroad.
Returning fourth-year students Geoff Bartakovics and David Lynch agree with Fortner, having studied this past year in Berlin through the Berlin Consortium for German Studies at Freie Universit00t Berlin.
Bartakovics' interest in Germany was piqued in high school "because the German language teacher was the most eccentric woman in my school," he said. Studying German modernism at Chicago clinched his desire to go to Berlin.
Lynch's interest in studying the language was fueled by conversations with his uncle, who lived in Berlin during and after World War II. He had always wanted to go to Germany, and meeting Chicago students who returned from Berlin finalized his decision. "Those students looked so healthy, so refreshed. After speaking to them, I was sure I wanted to go," said Lynch.
Lynch saw in those students what Dr. Carmen M,ller, Resident Administrative Director for the Consortium, sees in all students by the end of their year abroad. "One of the most satisfying aspects of my job is seeing each student blossom as the year progresses. In many ways, they grow up here."
M,ller emphasized that living in Berlin also is a big part of the students' education. "You cannot replace living in another country with classroom study," M,ller said.
While living with a German host family, students begin classes with a six-week intensive language and orientation course. They also enroll in regular classes taught in German each semester. After orientation, students are strongly encouraged to move into private housing in Berlin, where they must speak German regularly.
Lynch moved into a German dorm while Bartakovics lived in a converted sewing factory loft with roommates ranging from a German professor of design to a carpenter. "Students struggle with understanding spoken German at first," M,ller said. "But after a month or so of living with other Germans, they rapidly begin to pick up on the language and the culture."
Both Chicago students commented on the magnificence of Berlin, not just as a center of government, but as a panoply of culture. "It's amazing," said Lynch. "Students can see world-class opera and theater at DOC film prices." Lynch said he now explores what Chicago offers beyond the University-something he did not appreciate during his first two years.
Lynch and Bartakovics both have a renewed appreciation for the practical reasons of having a campus culture-something German public universities do not have. "Nothing in the world beats the Chicago education. It's refreshingly intense," said Bartakovics. "This fall, my biggest relief, though, is I no longer have to fill out a seven-part, carbon-copy form to check out a book from the library!"
Lynch added that a person is lucky to find a particular book needed for research in a German library. "Some of the German libraries are organized by the dates books are acquired. Several times I had to change paper topics because I could not find supporting materials," said Lynch.
"We are very different from American universities, but this is good for the students," M,ller said. "We advise and tutor students to make up for these differences, but most importantly, they acquire a different perspective on academia from their own campuses-such as the system we refer to as 'academic freedom,' where students work on their own."
Bartakovics mentioned differences in classroom study as well. "In college, you learn about the 'new criticism' methodology from the 1950s. It is historic," said Bartakovics. "New criticism is still the norm at Freie, and it was the methodology used in my classes to teach poetry."
Lynch said the experience makes students mature. "You don't have advisors to guide you or professors who try to motivate you. You have to do that yourself." Lynch said he discovered learning for the love of it in a non-competitive atmosphere where he learned as much about books as he did about people. "Although they are serious in their way, Germans love life. Being there taught me to enjoy life, to be happy." Lynch would tell all students interested in studying abroad to do it. "Living someplace exotic, like Berlin, gives you a better understanding of your own culture."
Bartakovics said while he can talk all day about the many wonderful memories he has of his year abroad, the best thing he can tell fellow students is to go there to get their own. "By the end of your second year, you'll be hooked on [Chicago]," said Bartakovics. "So, just when your life gets comfortable, pack up and trust yourself to go beyond your geographic bearings."