Opere founded one of U.Va.'s oldest sponsored study abroad
programs at the University of Valencia.
U.Va. seeks to bolster
in a foreign country, speaking the language, eating the food,
seeing the sights and making new friends opens students' minds
like nothing else on earth, say U.Va. faculty members who run
language study abroad programs for the College of Arts & Sciences.
return to their university programs in the United States not only
more comfortable using other languages but also more mature, more
tolerant of differences and more understanding of the world, said
Fernando Opere, professor of Spanish and director of the Hispanic
founded the University's foreign study program in Valencia, Spain,
in 1984, making it the oldest of seven U.Va.-sponsored programs
and, if numbers are any indication -- more than 5,000 students
from across the U.S. have participated in it -- the most successful.
son called it a 'magic year,'" said Opere, whose son, Philip,
spent time in Valencia before graduating from U.Va. last spring.
Fourteen students, 13 from U.Va. and one from the College
of William & Mary, participated in the University's Lima,
Peru, study abroad program in 1998. Several of the students
went on a tour of Machu Picchu, these ancient Inca ruins,
with Jorge Secada, director of the U.Va. program and associate
professor of philosophy.
who study abroad may not be the top language students when they
arrive, said William McDonald, professor of German, but they tend
to be very motivated individuals who get out and meet people and
don't worry about making grammatical mistakes when they speak.
McDonald supervises two foreign study programs, one in Dortmund,
in western Germany, and the other in Jena, in the former East
addition to classes on grammar, composition and conversation,
most of the U.Va. programs offer classes in other fields, such
as literature, culture and civilization.
Fall Semester-in-India program in Jodhpur, for example, offers
language classes for students at the 1st-, 2nd- or 3rd-year levels,
and a course on Indian culture and civilization; it also requires
students to complete an independent research project. The U.Va.
program, which has operated in Jodhpur for the past six years,
is jointly administered with Emory University, and builds on an
earlier program run by the U.Va. Department of Religious Studies,
according to Daniel Ehnbom, professor of art and director of the
Center for South Asian Studies.
summer program at the Universidad Catolica del Peru in Lima, along
with language classes, offers classes on liberation theology,
Peruvian history (pre-Incan to the 20th century), Andean and Amazonic
anthropology, and business Spanish. The Peruvian program offers
only the language classes in Spanish; the other classes are taught
in English to enable non-Spanish majors from other departments
to participate in the program, said Jorge Secada, professor of
philosophy who directs the Lima program. While students live with
Peruvian families, English-speaking host families can be arranged,
Quandt, the newly appointed vice provost for international affairs,
would like to establish new English-language programs overseas
in an effort to encourage even more U.Va. students to study abroad.
about 16 percent of U.Va. students currently pursue for-credit
study abroad, well behind U.Va.'s peer institutions, according
to the Virginia 2020 International Commission. One of the commission's
goals is to boost that figure to 80 percent by 2020, and Quandt
hopes to push it to about 30 percent over the next five years.
the number of U.Va. students who study abroad will require nothing
less than an institutional cultural change, Quandt believes. "We
need to make study abroad a cultural expectation around Grounds,"
along with a cultural shift must be other changes that make it
easier for students to sign up for foreign study and easier for
U.Va. faculty to administer such programs, Quandt said. First
among the needs is improved information, and upgrading the International
Studies Office Web pages, which is now under way, should help.
their part, faculty program directors speak of being personally
overextended, without adequate financial resources or administrative
is my second job," said Opere, who noted that he dug into
his pocket to cover the administrative costs -- including telephone,
postage and travel -- in the early years of setting up and running
because of the large number of students attending the Valencia
program, there is enough of a revenue stream to support Liz Wellbeloved-Stone,
assistant director of the Hispanic Studies Program at U.Va., along
with two administrators in Valencia and other program costs.
Sawaie, professor of Arabic who directs the summer language program
in Irbid, Jordan, has secured successive U.S. Department of Education
grants -- $50,000 over three years -- for program support. Even
so, the University is supposed to share administrative responsibilities,
which he said has proved difficult to arrange.
challenges of running successful language study abroad programs
are many. They involve handling administrative details on the
U.S. end as well as logistical matters on the other end. Janet
Horne, a professor of French who is currently in France to help
smooth operations of the new U.Va.-run undergraduate program in
Lyon, said students need help with everything from enrolling in
French university classes to renting an apartment, connecting
a phone, obtaining health insurance and just generally getting
accustomed to life in a foreign city.
The French program has arranged with a professor in Lyon, a former
Fulbright scholar in the U.S., to provide part-time help to U.S.
students, while the German program depends on colleagues at the
German universities who informally provide a friendly face and
a helping hand to American students.
"Institutions don't run programs, people run programs,"
Ryan, chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature,
faces additional challenges in administering a semester-long program
in Kazan, Russia. Students, who need at least two years of Russian
to apply, fly to Moscow then take a 12-hour train ride to Kazan,
which lies on the Volga River about 500 miles southeast of Moscow.
Students live with friendly families whose homes may not always
have hot water during the below-zero winters.
attending the summer program in Jordan don't have to worry about
freezing temperatures, but they do face other cultural challenges.
Western women entering a conservative Muslim society for the first
time have a lot of adjustments to make in a culture that restricts
women's dress and movements, said Sawaie. He has compiled an extensive
handbook for students, including such common-sense tips for women
as "How to Avoid Unwanted Attention." Other language
programs likewise offer students help in navigating new cultural
waters to make their stays, while eye-opening, as pleasant as
the programs' differences, directors agree that nearly all students
who study abroad come home transformed in some way. The experience
catapults many students into serious academic careers in the field.
Or it may encourage them to continue building their language skills
and seek international careers. Or they may return to the country
to work for nonprofit organizations, to volunteer or to teach.
The foreign study programs don't only benefit the students who
go abroad, faculty directors say. The students who go overseas
often establish friendships with people of other countries, allowing
foreigners to get to know Americans personally, creating a kind
of informal diplomacy. They raise the visibility of the University
of Virginia, which helps to recruit foreign students who may have
been familiar only with Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
Exchange programs also bring foreign students to the University
to study and gain insight into the American mind and the American
perspective, while sharing their own views in class. They serve
as teaching assistants in language classes and may even supervise
language dorms. They enrich the intellectual life here at U.Va.
experience may never appeal to everyone, but Quandt believes many
more students could benefit from study abroad than currently participate.
Even Thomas Jefferson, who lived in France from 1784-89, first
as a commissioner of trade and then as minister, managed to squeeze
a foreign experience into his busy life.
foreign language study programs
of students (cumulative)