Taking TC on the Road
By Brice Particelli
The College’s international study tours combine location and learning
On top of the smoldering Pacaya volcano 25 miles to the south of Antigua, Guatemala, my friend Jeannie Park and I are standing just feet away from slow-moving but radioactive-red molten lava. Our guide has told us that it is safe—the volcano drips lava in slow, predictable streams down the mountain—but the heat and sulfurous stench make it a struggle to stand even this close. Still, I stretch my six-foot walking stick out and poke the lava, smiling like a kid at the sheer joy of this unique experience—and stepping away quickly when the tip catches fire.
Jeannie, a master’s student in TC’s elementary education program, and I are part of a 17-member group on “Spanish Language Study in Guatemala,” a two-week Study Tour offered through the College’s Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation (CEO&I), where I work as Events and Program Manager. This tour is offered as both an Interdisciplinary course (IND 4005, 1-3 credits) and as a non-credit. There are students from Curriculum & Teaching, Arts & Humanities and Math, Science & Technology, as well as TC alumni, staff and even an adjunct faculty member. They’ve all come to immerse themselves in a new culture and improve their Spanish. The academics are rigorous—six hours a day, five days a week, of individualized language lessons, whether you’re a beginner or fluent—but there’s ample time for play. The perks include a five-star hotel (a renovated stone monastery), the gorgeous cobblestone colonial town of Antigua and organized trips to Pacaya, the Mayan ruins of Tikal, Lake Atitlan and more.
The Guatemala course is one of nearly a dozen one- to two-week Study Tours offered through CEO&I each year. The tours began in the mid 1990s when Bruce Vogeli, Clifford Brewster Upton Professor of Mathematical Education and Program Coordinator of TC’s Mathematics Education program, led a trip to Nepal. “It grew out of our faculty’s service abroad,” Vogeli recalls. “My students used to ask, teasingly, ‘Why don’t you take us along?’ I thought, ‘Why not?’ So I did.”
Since then, the Tours have visited dozens of countries, covering topics that range from music education to math education, and health policy to comparative education systems. During last spring’s tour to Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore (IND 4005), students explored teaching strategies and systems in those countries. Last summer’s Siamo Tutti Musicisti (“We are all Musicians”) tour to Italy (A&HM 5143) was centered around a music education conference in Bologna. In an upcoming Study Tour to Mexico in November 2008 (MSTM 4005), students will visit schools in three cities to meet with teachers, students, and administrators.
“Having observed other countries’ K–12 and higher educational systems, and spoken with educational leaders across the world, I have a better understanding of the challenges American educators, teachers and leaders are facing in the 21st century,” says mathematics doctoral student Ricco Wright, President of the TC Student Senate, who has been on CEO&I-sponsored Study Tours to Russia, South Korea, Iceland, Finland and Guatemala. “Students seem to regularly return feeling both renewed by travel and reinvigorated having seen a different culture and approach.
While some Study Tours, like ones to Chile, Russia and Korea are recurring, CEO&I offers new courses each semester led by faculty members from a range departments. One of the newest is “Topics in Health Education” in Iceland, which ran this August through TC’s Health and Behavior Studies Department, with master’s student Sigridur Thora Eidsdottir and Department Chair John Allegrante at the helm.
This course grew out of Allegrante’s 2007 stint in Iceland as a Fulbright visiting scholar and Acting Dean of the School of Public Health at Reykjavik University, which has since been followed by the signing of a formal partnership between TC and RU.
“With an agreement now in place, it seemed the right time to launch an annual study program that offers an opportunity to experience a unique culture and natural environment in which to study issues of health, education, and social policy,” says Allegrante, adding that one of the highlights of the tour was a special lecture and reception given by Gudlaugur (Guli) Thor Thordarson, the Icelandic Minister of Health and Social Security. “How many students can say that the head of a national governmental agency not only gave them a private tutorial, but also threw a party in their honor?”
As brief as the Study Tours are, their benefits can be career- and even life-changing. My friend Jeannie signed up for the Guatemala trip because, even with six years of Spanish under her belt, she felt her conversational skills were getting rusty. Since receiving what she describes as “excellent” individualized instruction in Guatemala, Jeannie has returned to student-teach at a school with a strong Latino population.
“The versatility to switch more easily between languages helped me connect and relate better with the children and the experiences they brought to the classroom,” she says.
As for me, well, back home on the remote island of Manhattan, many months after the tour, I receive a group email from another alumna of the tour, Curriculum and Teaching M.A. student Minna Kim.
“I miss you guys,” she wrote. “How about a picnic in the park next week?” It’s another perk of the Study Tours: new friends.
For more information about CEO&I-sponsored Study Tours, visit http://continuingeducation.tc.columbia.edu/ and search “Tour,” or call 212.678.3987. Registration is usually open until two weeks before the trip begins, but courses are often capped at 15 or 20 students and fill up quickly.
Upcoming courses include comparative education trips to Mexico (November, 2008), Argentina and Chile (March, 2009), Korea and Japan (May, 2009), and the Spanish Language tour to Guatemala (January, 2009). Other Study Tours under exploration include return trips to Iceland and Italy, new Study Tours to Dubai and Fiji, and sustainable Study Tours to Curaçao and India.