This October, in the hot savannah of northeastern South Africa, 17 Dartmouth students lived in the villages of Hamakuya, where wealth is measured in livestock, the water taps work only on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and elephants walk in the neighborhoods. Students in the Environmental Studies Foreign Study Program (FSP) are conducting a survey of how the residents utilize their natural resources.
Andrew Ferrera '10 stayed with a family and taught Tali, a charismatic 8-year-old, how to dance the Salty Dog Rag. While they couldn't always speak in the same language, Ferrera says, they found so many ways to communicate—through gestures, smiles, and a shared enjoyment of music and dance. Zoe Shtasel-Gottlieb '10 says, "There was such a sense of community there. They welcomed us into their houses and opened up their lives to us."
This year, Dartmouth celebrates 50 years of leadership in developing programs for international study. The College first awarded Dartmouth academic credit for study abroad in 1958. Since then, more than 25,000 undergraduates have seized upon these opportunities. They've studied with Dartmouth faculty in places as diverse as the tropical rainforests of Central America, the Silk Road of China, and the ancient ruins of Greece.
A global context
Linguistics and Classics Professor Lindsay Whaley, who oversees all off-campus study in his role as associate dean for international and interdisciplinary studies, says, "The American experience in World War II underscored the need to envision an education that was global in scope. The problems of the day could no longer be contained within the borders of a nation, and the looming issues could only be grasped in a global context. Dartmouth's president at the time, John Sloan Dickey, saw this with remarkable clarity and sought to recast the Dartmouth experience in international terms."
Whaley adds, "Thanks to President Dickey's vision, our graduates now leave Hanover with the skills to engage the world with sophisticated cultural understanding, an ability to extend leadership beyond our borders, and a curiosity that revels in the unfamiliar. There is little wonder in the fact that Off-Campus Programs have become an integral part of the Dartmouth experience."
Legendary Professor John Rassias, the William R. Kenan Professor in the Department of French and Italian, was instrumental in the development of Dartmouth's Language Study Abroad (LSA) programs, which began in 1967. Kate Conley, professor of French and Italian and the associate dean for the arts and humanities, says, "John knew that there is no better way to learn a language than to surround yourself with native speakers and to immerse yourself in their language and culture. Bringing the experience he gained teaching foreign languages in the Peace Corps to Dartmouth, he has opened the world to countless students over four decades."
Study abroad is deeply embedded in Dartmouth's liberal arts tradition and central to the academic mission. More than 125 Dartmouth faculty are involved in Off-Campus Programs in 23 countries around the world. Dartmouth is the top Ivy League school for study abroad, with 64.1 percent participation, according to the Institute of Higher Education's annual report issued this November. In the Class of 2008, a total of 527 students participated in Off-Campus Programs, with 74 participating in two programs or more.
Dartmouth alumni often point to their study abroad as one of the most valuable aspects of their education. Many of them generously support the programs to ensure current students have the same type of opportunities that so marked their own lives.
"The more you can put yourself in new and unfamiliar territories, the greater personal strength you will develop and the more formed your identity will become," says Douglas Sacks '80, who studied French in Bourges and Toulouse and English in London. Sacks, now a managing director for Goldman Sachs, stresses the importance of having an international perspective when he speaks with Dartmouth students interested in careers in business.
World War II veteran Frank Guarini '46, a former seven-term congressman in New Jersey and representative of the United States on the General Assembly of the United Nations, agrees. "Whether you're in Asia, Africa, or Europe, you sit down with people and realize that we are so much alike. Living in and being exposed to everyday life in another country is the most important experience a student can have. It will lead to a fuller understanding of all cultures and religions and to a more peaceful world."
Michele Dupre '88 refers to her German LSA and tropical ecology FSP in Costa Rica and Jamaica as important "stepping stones." She relied on her German language and culture skills after graduation when she went to work for BMW in Munich, Germany. She used her ecological training for her career as an environmental engineer in the States.
Dupre, whose husband Min Kocher '89 also went on the Costa Rica FSP, says, "These experiences have had and continue to have a profound effect on my life. Every walk in the woods I take with our four children is directly influenced by what I learned from Professors David Peart, Dick Holmes, and John Gilbert. I can't help but share their lessons on observing nature."
Carol Folt, professor of biological sciences and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Associate Dean Whaley; and John Tansey, executive director of Off-Campus Programs, traveled to London, Barcelona, and Pretoria, South Africa, in October. Their visits were part of a regular review of off-campus study conducted by the Dean of the Faculty Office to strengthen Dartmouth's programs.
"The opportunities we provide our students are really extraordinary," Tansey says. "We have exceedingly high participation rates, each program lasts the full term and is academically challenging, and the breadth of the programs is unparalleled.
"Most of our programs include living with families or studying with students from other countries and all are led by Dartmouth faculty," he continues. "In contrast, most schools rely heavily on third-party providers of study abroad programs. Having our own faculty lead the programs ensures that the academic quality of the experience remains high and reinforces the close personal connections between our faculty and students."
Maura Cass '10, who returned to Hanover four months ago from the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Program in Fez, Morocco, says, "Rarely do we have the ability to completely displace ourselves from a familiar footing so that we are forced to dispose of what we know and begin anew. The experience remains one of the most defining in my education."
By STEVEN J. SMITH
Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.
Last Updated: 12/3/08