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'Round the Girdled Earth They Roam

One day along the Silk Road on the edge of the Gobi Desert, Claire Wiley ’09 rode a camel into the sunrise. “We got up at five a.m. and rode out into the dunes in strings of five camels. It was unforgettable,” she says. Wiley, a student on the Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literatures Foreign Study Program (FSP) in Beijing, China, is one of 680 students who will participate in a study abroad program this academic year. In 2006–2007, Dartmouth will offer 43 different programs to over 20 countries.

Claire Wiley '09
Claire Wiley ’09 rides a camel into the Gobi Desert while on a Foreign Study Program (FSP) in China. (Photo courtesy Claire Wiley '09)

"Dartmouth is a long-standing leader in study abroad,” says John Tansey, executive director of Off-Campus Programs. “Consistently, over 50 percent of students participate in one or more FSP or Language Study Abroad (LSA) programs before they graduate.” According to data released in November by the Institute of International Education, Dartmouth’s 2004–2005 undergraduate participation in study abroad programs, 53.1 percent, ranked among the highest in the nation. Tansey says that student participation rates are so high because of the commitment and involvement of faculty, a tradition of travel among students, a wide selection of programs, the availability of financial aid in supporting study abroad, and the flexibility of Dartmouth’s year-round calendar.

Associate Professor of Classics and Linguistics Lindsay Whaley, recently appointed to the position of associate dean of the faculty for international and interdisciplinary studies, oversees the study abroad programs. “Our programs are the envy of other schools,” Whaley says. “They have academic rigor, and they’re led by Dartmouth faculty members with deep expertise in the languages and cultures of destination countries.” Peter Armstrong, director of Off-Campus Programs from 1969 to 1999, agrees with Whaley’s assessment, adding that the programs work because the faculty are so heavily involved in their planning, design, and operation. “There is a direct connection between their success and the investment of time and expertise by the academic departments,” Armstrong says.

FSP fall 1958
Madrid, Spain, fall of 1958: (from left) H. Rick Hite ’60, E. George Erdman ’60, Robert Weber ’58, Jonathan Brown ’60, and Richard Saez ’58. Hite and Erdman earned the first Dartmouth academic credit for their time abroad. Brown was abroad with a New York University program; Weber and Saez were on fellowships. (Photo courtesy H. Rick Hite '60)

The formal history of foreign study at Dartmouth goes back to 1958, when Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Emeritus Robert Russell supported E. George Erdman ’60 and H. Rick Hite ’60 in their quests to spend a year at the University of Madrid. When Hite and Erdman returned to campus and passed exams, they earned the first Dartmouth academic credit for time spent overseas. “It was the most broadening experience I’ve ever had,” says Hite. “I saw myself and my own country from a different perspective.” Hite went on to specialize in producing and translating plays written by Spanish playwrights, and he taught theater at Virginia Wesleyan College for 30 years. Erdman taught Spanish at Binghamton University for 32 years.

In 1967, John Rassias, the William R. Kenan Professor of French and Italian, introduced the LSA program with a session in Bourges, France. A distinguishing characteristic of the program is that all participating students live with local host families. “Language and culture taught as a single entity best informs the person of the mind-set, the heartbeat of the country,” says Rassias. Today, Dartmouth offers LSAs in Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, and Spain.

While LSAs are sponsored by language departments, FSPs are focused on both language and non-language disciplines. Nicholas Ware ’08, a current participant in the Environmental Studies FSP in South Africa is particularly interested in malaria. “I more clearly understand the connection between agricultural irrigation and the disease,” he says. Like all students on FSPs, Ware is complementing his excursions and field research with classes, such as Environmental Studies 40: Natural Resources and Environmental Issues in Southern Africa, offered at the University of Pretoria.

Living with a family in Lyon, France, breathing in the mist of a Costa Rican cloud forest, listening to an opera in Berlin, or studying with the Maori people of New Zealand—these are the experiences that draw students away from Hanover every year. “It changes students’ perspectives about the world and themselves,” says Tansey. “It transforms them.”

Miles Harrigan ’03, a past participant in the LSA in Barcelona, adds that college years are the best time to participate in study abroad. “It helped me incorporate more of the world and its cultures into who I was becoming,” he says.

Professor Russell, who taught Spanish at Dartmouth from 1957 until 2003, doesn’t hide his emotions when he speaks about his first trip to Spain and the impact it had on his career and his life. “It changed my ability to communicate accurately and enthusiastically about language, history, and literature,” he says. “Salamanca was magical. I left on the train weeping.” Russell is delighted to see how the programs have grown in the intervening years. “It is wonderful that so many Dartmouth students are traveling because it’s the only way to fully understand a topic of interest, and the world,” he says. “You don’t know until you’re there. You just have to be there.”

By STEVEN SMITH

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Last Updated: 5/30/08