A Classroom with a View: Study Abroad Expands Vistas for Students and Faculty

Posted: June 19, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Students in Ireland
New Century College professor Kelly Dunne, third from right, took her class to the Dun Aengus ruins on the Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland.
Photo courtesy Kelly Dunne

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Now that art history major Madison Bolls has her passport, there is no stopping her. The junior made her first trip abroad this year in January, and now the traveling bug has taken hold.

At first, the three-week trip to Monaco offered by Mason’s Center for Global Education (CGE) seemed like a fun way to earn the last three credits in French she needed for her bachelor of arts degree, but Bolls feels she got a lot more than that out of the experience.

Language Immersion and Much More

“It was amazing,” she says with a huge smile. “I learned so much on this trip. I know I learned more French in those three weeks than I had the three other semesters.”

Madison Bolls
Madison Bolls, with the Mediterranean as a backdrop.
Photo courtesy Madison Bolls

And as an art history major, she especially enjoyed taking in the art, architecture and culture, returning home with literally hundreds of photos.

Bolls’ days were filled with intensive French courses, but there was still plenty of time to get out and explore. “The country of Monaco is actually smaller than Central Park,” she says, so Bolls and her classmates planned a number of excursions outside of the country. “Everything is so accessible there.” S noted it was easy to move from place to place by train. Among her favorite experiences were trips to Cannes, Nice and Italy.

A highlight of the trip was coming across original artwork by Salvador Dali and Marc Chagall. “And they were for sale in a gallery.”

During her trip, Bolls stayed with a host family – “actually a host mother who used to work for the Prince [of Monaco] before she retired” – along with Natalie Crocker, a sophomore majoring in nursing, and another language student from Ecuador. Neither the host nor the Ecuadorian spoke English, yet somehow the foursome managed to make conversation.

“I would actually sit at dinner with my dictionary most nights,” Bolls says. “And sometimes I just couldn’t find the word I needed. Somehow we found a way to understand each other.”

Since returning from Monaco, Bolls has taken a job with CGE and is already planning another trip – this time to Guatemala for a service project with her church. “It is such a tease working here,” she says. “All the trips look so interesting to me.”

Students in cafe
Students Natalie Crocker, Shivangi Avansthi, Madison Bolls and Stephanie Sullivan enjoyed a meal at a Monaco cafe.
Photo courtesy Madison Bolls

Professors on the Job

New Century College professor Kelly Dunne says many of her colleagues are curious about her study-abroad experiences, but she is quick to tell people that it’s no vacation.

“People think you are away from home and seeing wonderful sights, but you are still on the job. You are responsible,” says Dunne, who has conducted four trips to Ireland and one trip to Scotland for CGE.

Dunne explains that she is always available to the students while they are on a trip – and just a cell phone call away if they are exploring the country on their own.

For the faculty member, study abroad involves more work than just showing up for the trip. For Dunne’s next trip to Ireland in May 2007, the work starts now.

“I usually plan my syllabus and begin recruiting by the end of the summer,” she says. If all systems are go (most trips need a certain level of enrollment or they are cancelled), Dunne will begin getting in touch with her contacts abroad to set up the logistics and buy tickets.

Since she has done the Ireland trip so many times, Dunne has a number of Irish vendors she works with regularly who help the trip come off without a hitch. “Because they’ve worked with us before, I have even been able to get people to open sites for me that are normally closed that time of year.”

Dunne designs the travel for her course, History and Culture of Ireland, around readings, and holds class in a meeting room at the hotel where they stay. She even gives quizzes.

“I used to wait until we got back [to do the classroom part of the trip,] but found they didn’t retain as much.” The readings, discussions and quizzes remind the already engaged travelers that it is an educational experience, and Dunne admits the students usually ace the tests. “They can’t help but learn the material.”

One of Dunne’s favorite things about taking students abroad is watching the camaraderie grow among a group of young people with diverse backgrounds and majors. “Here at New Century College, we value learning communities. And these trips offer a wonderful opportunity to see firsthand a true learning community develop.”

The Big Picture

Bolls is one of more than 700 students who will travel to another country this year as part of one of Mason’s study-abroad programs, according to Carolyn Baum, a program officer for CGE. Mason has one of the most active programs in the state, trailing University of Virginia by only a few hundred students.

According to Baum, the most popular trips are the ones to London, Madrid and Seville, Spain, and Florence, Italy, but it isn’t unusual to find Argentina, Israel and Palestine and China on the schedule.

The center also offers a variety of types of trips, including semester-long and year-long programs, as well as direct exchanges.

The university has direct exchange agreements, where the student pays tuition at Mason but room and board at the university they are attending, with universities around the globe. These include the University of Canberra in Australia, Sophia University in Japan and Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

And CGE is open to new ideas. “Faculty members are always coming to us with ideas for trips abroad,” says Baum. “We do what we can to help make those happen.”

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