Director of Off Campus and International Programs
When Audrey Hepburn – Princess Ann in the cinematic classic “Roman Holiday” – trades her position of royalty for that of curious traveler she impulsively decides to cut her hair. “Are you sure, Miss?” asks the incredulous Italian hairdresser. “I’m quite sure, thank you.” Hepburn insists. The resulting dramatic change in her appearance reflects the deeply personal transformation she is experiencing within.
There’s a quite a bit of metaphorical haircutting that goes on here at Drew. Students who have assumed the role of curious traveler through study abroad return to campus changed in some way. Sometimes it’s as obvious as a new hairstyle or a departure from their normal manner of dress, but often the changes are more subtle and much more profound.
Working with Sudanese refugees in Cairo, learning about international finance at the London Metal Exchange, or practicing their French with le serveur at a restaurant on Paris’ Left Bank; students cannot help but see the world with fresh eyes. The experience enriches their academic pursuits, professional plans and personal growth. They pursue their majors with greater enthusiasm, begin to consider new career paths and feel more confident and independent than ever before. It’s not unusual in the International and Off-Campus Programs Office to hear students excitedly relay details of their experiences overseas and conclude with, “This changed my life.”
About half of all Drew students who study abroad do so through the Drew International Seminar program, or DIS, but unlike Hepburn’s adventures in Italy, it is far from a holiday. The program annually offers a selection of academically rigorous, 3-week study abroad programs in January or May that are designed and led by Drew faculty. While short term education abroad is not unique to Drew, the semester-long course students take prior to travel is uncommon. The course includes both academic and cultural preparation so that when students arrive on site, they hit the ground running.
Once abroad, students develop and refine skills in cultural awareness, intercultural adjustment, critical observation and research. Students are asked to develop and present a research project and keep a journal to record their cultural observations. All participants receive some training in the language and customs of the country they will visit.
For the past two decades, the DIS has helped nearly 1,900 students study abroad in more than 30 countries around the world. This year students are living and learning in Egypt, Greece and Turkey, Italy, Martinique and South Africa.
In January and May of 2013 groups will venture to the United Kingdom & Belgium; Morocco & Paris; Ghana; Egypt and Russia. There, they will witness European political and economic integration in action, study health and human development, assist with refugee relief efforts, research migration and globalization, and learn how their Russian peers are preparing themselves for a more global future.
While study abroad offers students a life changing opportunity, participation is not always free of impediments. Removing the common barriers to study abroad was the driving force when Drew created the DIS in 1993 and we remain committed to providing programs that fit within students’ academic schedules, curricular requirements and financial means. That last goal presents a challenge as the price tag associated with a quality academic and cultural experience overseas can be prohibitive. Student interest in the DIS remains high, but in recent years there has been a decline in program enrollment as more and more students and their families have felt the impact of the global recession.
The International and Off-Campus Programs Office conducted a survey of both students and faculty this past fall to determine what they value most in education abroad. This spring we will use that information to enhance our programs so that they meet the needs of all participants. We hope to expand the seminars into new disciplines and new areas of the world. We also will look for financial support to help make our programs affordable to as many students as possible.
As the DIS approaches its 20th anniversary, I am grateful for the many people who have been – and continue to be – involved in its success. You are changing students’ lives.
Of that, like Audrey Hepburn, I’m quite sure.