Studying abroad broadens horizons

By Lisa Schulz

In three weeks, the spring 2012 semester will be history. Summer 2012, on the other hand, a time to study history—the foundation of Columbia’s overseas study program’s curriculum.

For the program’s annual summer trips, approximately 12 students will pack up their bags and check Prague and Florence off their study destination wish lists. The Florence trip lasts from June 28–July 28 and is hosted by the Fiction Writing Department, which will also host a trip to Prague with the Marketing Communication Department from May 12–June 24. All majors can participate in the trip, and core departmental classes will be counted as collegewide credit.

“It’s impossible to have a college education in the arts and media without having an understanding of the international market that [students] would be working within,” said Chris Greiner, director of International Programs. “The opportunity for studying abroad, for exchanges and even for small summer programs cannot be underestimated as at the very least a taste, if not an understanding, of life in other countries and an understanding of [students’ own] careers from outside of the United States.”

In addition, Columbia has exchange programs during the fall and spring semesters with seven colleges in European and Asian cities: Dublin; East London, Bath and Sidcup, England; Paris; Shanghai; and Mannheim, Germany.

According to Columbia’s website, each college has different departments available for exchanges of students and faculty. Between two–six exchanges are accepted per year, depending on the college. Greiner said scheduling the trips can be challenging because plans are based on the projected number of participants.

Information sessions are typically scheduled a semester beforehand, he said. Applications are distributed during these sessions, which allow students to meet professors who will teach abroad. Questions about the program and the region and people are also addressed.

“Part of the charm is that the windows don’t close exactly like they should because they’re 100 years old,” Greiner said to students at an April 10 informational meeting for Florence. “Keep your mind open to a European experience.”

The trip to Florence began in as an Art & Design Department initiative 12 years ago, but it became a collegewide opportunity six years later, he said.

Students can choose a four-credit-hour course through Columbia’s overseas partner arts college Lorenzo de’ Medici, according to Columbia’s website. Tuition is $4,500, including housing and additional fees.

Columbia’s website also said courses offered at the college includes: a travel writing workshop, an art and architecture class, a photography class, a comedy course with professors from the Radio and Film & Video departments, a cinematic art class and a fiction seminar.

Ann Hemenway, associate professor in the Fiction Writing Department, is scheduled to teach the fiction seminar in Florence for the first time.

“We have to [teach] in four weeks for the full credit, so I think all of the Florence classes will be intense,” Hemenway said. “But students get so much out of it.”

According to her, students in the seminar attend class two days per week and explore the city one day per week. Greiner explained that students studying in Florence can also further explore with optional weekend excursions to parts of Italy such as Pisa, Elba Island, Venice or The Vatican in Rome, which are $330 each.

Prague also has a four-week program that offers a similar number of credits. Classes offered in Prague are advanced fiction, dreams in fiction and critical reading and writing courses for contemporary European writers, fiction writers abroad and Prague-born author Franz Kafka.

“[Prague] was possibly one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen,” said Hemenway, who taught Advanced Fiction Writing there during the summers of 2000 and 2006. “Students had really a wealth of visual material to draw from. There’s so much history. It’s so old, but it’s been so well-preserved. The student writing became timeless in some ways. It almost

got dream-like.”

The dreamy quality is often represented in Kafka’s work, she said. Students have the opportunity to visit the Franz Kafka Museum full of the “beloved and revered” author’s work, according to Hemenway. She also said his Prague hometown strongly embodies the settings in his writing, both emotionally and psychologically.

Kafka has also influenced business jargon, said Tom Hamilton, associate professor in the Marketing Communication Department. For example, Hamilton would explain a “very strange meeting” as “Kafka-esque” to define a dark and gloomy situation.

Studying abroad in Prague also helps students understand the importance of knowing a culture’s background when marketing internationally, said Sandra Kumorowski, assistant professor in the Marketing Communication Department and professor in Prague.

“Look at what ‘Mad Men’ is doing right now,” Kumorowski said. “It’s a ’60s show. None of our students were born in the ’60s, but the trend is going back like crazy. We need to understand history in order to create our future.”

Giving the profusion of brands from Oreo cookies to Nivea face cream, she said possessing a wide-range of history is also necessary when marketing different brands because immediate switches can occur.

Almost as quickly as marketing brands can change, Columbia students for the first time will experience the intensive seminars used in Czech schools. Czech classes typically consist of lectures, workshop, and written and oral exams, she added.

Columbia students will collaborate with students from the University of Economics to create a marketing strategy in two days for a local nonprofit organization and present it to the company on the third day, Kumorowski said.

Hamilton said the trip is also multicultural because it is not exclusive to Columbia students. He recalled students who still remain friends after meeting on the trip four years ago.

“There’s something when they’re all in a strange place at the same time,” Hamilton said. “There’s a terrific bond that builds and they become friends forever.”

Opportunity for overseas collaboration also comes in short bursts between semester changes. Visiting students from Bath Spa University in England are scheduled to visit the Fiction Writing Department, Hemenway said. Guests from Bath Spa will also appear on the Television Department’s live sketch comedy show “Freq Out: A View from Across the Pond.” While the Marketing Communication Department would like to arrange a trip with the college, nothing is certain yet, Kumorowski said.

Columbia students should take advantage of the travel abroad whenever the chance presents itself, Hemenway said.

“It can be a very valuable part of your education,” she said. “It’s not always possible for everyone to do it, but it really is a real chance. It’s very difficult to do in the rest of your life. You can’t take that kind of time off from work. It contributes toward your degree, as well. And it’s not like you’re just going on vacation. You’re actually getting work done.”

Registration for Florence and Prague ended April 13. Sidcup, Shanghai and Mannheim colleges accept applications year-round, while other application deadlines were March 30.