“The two and a half weeks I spent in Vienna made up the most enriching, educational time in my life. No single event has had a greater impact on me as a person.” —Rachel Wasson
“The collaboration with the University of Vienna students was an experience unlike any other. We broke down stereotypes, learned about each other’s cultures, and had a little fun as well.” —Julia Sawa
“By first-handedly participating in a different culture, I was able to not only discover a different lifestyle, but I was also unfolding the attributes that make me an American.” —Donna Sula
These are just a few excerpts of feedback from the scores of Bradley University students whose lives have been enriched by their experiences studying abroad. Dr. Christine Blouch, director of Bradley’s International Programs Office, was herself greatly affected by the experience of studying abroad as a college student. Spending a year in Luxembourg “really gave me a perspective I simply would not have had otherwise,” she said. Blouch believes that studying abroad is a “benchmark academic intellectual experience.”
Originally called the European Summer Semester, Bradley’s Study Abroad program began in the early 1970s and offered students the opportunity to study in Europe for six weeks. Blouch’s predecessor, Joe Roach, was a history professor who helped get the program off the ground. “Joe Roach was willing to take a risk on these innovative programs that most schools just do not offer. He was very much an advocate of study abroad in any sense of the word,” reported Blouch. “Like he said, ‘If you can’t get them abroad for a semester, you can at least get them abroad for an intensive, short-term course.’”
Dr. Blouch’s experience with the international programs department began about 10 years ago when, as an English professor, she was offered a job teaching a course abroad. “I then became what I call now a ‘cheap date,’” she recalled. “Every time they offered me a job teaching in the abroad program, I took it, because it was a way to get over the big pond—and because I believe in it.” By the time Roach retired, Blouch had taught in nearly every venue offered by the program, making her the perfect candidate for the open position of director.
When travel costs skyrocketed in 2003, it became more difficult to take groups across Europe for a full six weeks each summer, so the university decided to offer shorter programs in six different venues. “We are able to accommodate in our current structure many more students than we could [before],” said Blouch. “Students have much more selection in terms of where they want to go.”
With options for semesters or full years abroad in more than 25 countries, in addition to short-term intensive programs, students are afforded immense opportunities to cross academic and cultural boundaries at the same time. According to the department’s mission statement, “These unique programs combine academic rigor with directed cultural encounters in some of the most interesting venues in the world.”
In May 2008, Bradley’s international programs department took students to Vienna, Sydney, Berlin, Dublin, Friedrichshafen and Barcelona, rounding out the year’s total of 407 students who studied abroad in short- or long-term programs. At that rate, over the course of four years, about a quarter of the student body will have studied abroad. Blouch’s goal, of course, is to build that number even higher.
“Students who study abroad, even for a short-term program, have an appreciation for other countries that you simply don’t get unless you go there,” she noted. “Internationalization cannot be just a purely intellectual experience.”
Connecting to a Culture
Successful study abroad programs do not consist merely of shipping students overseas: where students go, faculty must also go. According to Blouch, teaching abroad is a completely different experience than teaching on campus. “It’s not for everyone,” she said, but those who participate do so because they believe in the importance of experiencing a different culture firsthand.
English Professor Tim Conley is one such professor. Having taught classes at the University of Vienna, Dr. Conley has developed a close relationship with the faculty there. Through his many experiences taking students abroad, Conley has come to believe that “it’s very important for students to go to a country, if they can, whose first language is not English.”
“It’s also important that the students become connected to a culture through people who live there,” he said. “By having our students meet and spend hours with students from the University of Vienna, they have a personal connection that…makes the experience much more significant.” Studying abroad has also proven to increase students’ confidence levels when they realize that they can get around in a foreign country, especially one in which English is not the primary language. Dr. Conley believes this may be the best benefit.
A Labor of Love
According to Blouch, one of the most important things Roach accomplished during his tenure was to make sure Bradley developed an institutional commitment to what he felt was one of the programs which set the school apart. Part of this commitment required the university to reduce tuition for students studying abroad, which meant reduced contracts for faculty members who taught courses abroad. “It really is a labor of love,” said Blouch. Without reducing tuition, many students could not afford its cost on top of travel expenses. “What I like about Bradley is that they’ve decided to make the study abroad program sort of a nonprofit venture within the university itself. The only benefit we get out of it is the intellectual benefit.”
In 2008, Bradley’s Global Scholars Program was officially initiated as a curriculum within the university. Students who complete the program—which includes components both on campus and abroad—graduate with Global Scholars certificates and notations on their diplomas. The program is currently offered through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts, the Foster College of Business Administration, and the College of Education and Health Sciences.
While gaining cultural perspective, students who study abroad also gain a competitive edge in their careers. “Twenty years ago,” Dr. Blouch said, “if you worked at Caterpillar, I don’t think you were a tremendously stronger candidate if you spoke Chinese, but boy, that’s different today!” Not only does studying abroad represent a core academic value, many employers now seek to hire candidates with some kind of international experience.
A Bedrock Goal
Because business is quickly “going global,” workers must learn how to thrive in international environments. While those already in the workforce can typically receive on-the-job training to bring them up to speed, it makes sense that colleges and universities would begin to emphasize the importance of understanding and working cross-culturally. This is reflected in the mission statement of Bradley’s International Programs Office:
We believe that members of a global campus can cross borders even without traveling, and we work toward that end by promoting a critical awareness of world issues; engaging knowledge of and appreciation for other cultures, languages and belief systems; and committing to educating active, responsible global citizens.
The International Programs Office at Bradley University is committed to nurturing the development of students as citizens of a complex global community. Our goal is to prepare individuals for life and professions in a changing world by enabling our students to cross academic, geographic and cultural boundaries. According to Dr. Conley, globalization is an important part of internationalization, “but too often,” he said, “that translates into corporate or large-scale political interaction in English.” By taking students to other countries and cultures, Bradley helps to rear global citizens who have not only read and heard about other cultures and the ways in which they do business, but actually experienced them firsthand.
Says Dr. Blouch, “Globalization constitutes a bedrock goal of a university education, which is to foster commitment to the values of civility, diversity and informed respect for the individual and for cultures that are not our own.” With this in mind, Bradley University continues to give today’s students the progressive education they need to be equipped for work in today’s global marketplace. iBi