Study Away and the spirit of place (Beverly Moser)

I’ve enjoyed reading the chapters in our coursebook, and particularly Mark Salisbury’s chapter Matching Program and Student Characteristics with Learning Outcomes. Since I am a German professor at App, I chuckled when I saw that Salisbury compared a semester-long, travel-all-over-Germany-and learn 19th-Century-German-Literature as the study abroad course against which he measured the (more effective) shorter, high-impact course in Urban Planning.  To me, the comparison fell flat because the study abroad program being described appeared to do so little to really connect students to Germany, its culture, language, and people, by capitalizing on the place of the study itself.  This underscored for me the importance of really connecting the spirit of the place in the design of any study away, and in the design and content and learning outcomes, too.

My blog photo comes from the first full day of a short-term summer abroad program I’ve led in Germany, and captures, for me, the spirit of the place.  For me and my students, this museum was not “just” a building, but the starting point for a exploration of German civilization that went all the way back to the Romans and took us through to see Germany in the present day.

With this in mind, I would love to take students on a 1- or 2-week exploration of the German (and other European) roots of immigration as they obtained at the turn of the 20th century, and that ends up examining the face of migration in the world today.  This is relevant to our curriculum because migration is a featured topic in our German 1050 course, and of course, it’s the most profound challenge facing Germany and Europe today.  Our students read a German youth novel on this topic (the story of one family’s immigration to America in the early 1900s) and examine the cultural dimensions of the family, identity, the importance of work, and assimilation.  Since the idea would be to connect students with this history (America as a land of immigrants) and bring them to the role of the German-speaking countries in the current day, I  could imagine starting site visits at Ellis Island, and ending with a visit/lecture on a migration-related topic at the United Nations.  The United Nations list of global topics/activities to explore is fascinating and has multiple connections to what is valued in the European Union (and in Germany today).

Because of the high volume of German travelers in New York, there are also neat ways of bringing my students in contact with German speakers while there– German-speaking tourists are a cross-section of present-day society, and an opportunity for learning. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art offers German language tours twice per week, there are German sightseeing tours on foot(!) and the Goethe Institut New York has its own community of German speakers, long-time immigrants, and new arrivals. It’s even featuring, as one of its projects, a series on refugees.  Some of these links would provide thoughtful readings in English as a foundation for further discussion, at the UN, in class, or both.  I could imagine this class and study away happening either in the 5th or 6th semester of German, if it were to be conducted entirely in German, or possibly even the 4th semester over spring break, if the course would have some German and some English-speaking days.

One reason I wanted to participate in the NYC program is that while I know New York contains so many opportunities for student learning, I lack a deeper understanding of the city that would let me really lead students on a meaningful experience there. This deeper connection would, to me, be needed in order to link the site optimally with a course or courses I’d take there– thus really “get” the spirit of the place and tease out all that New York could offer us.  I’m looking forward to each of the tours on our schedule– and especially the UN tour!


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