International Educator - November/December 2014 - 40

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EDUCATION ABROAD
By Janet Hulstrand

Multidisciplinary Programs Abroad
AMONG ITS MANY OTHER BENEFITS, education abroad offers faculty members an excellent

opportunity to work collaboratively with colleagues from other disciplines to provide their students
with the most well-rounded and comprehensive picture possible of the location they are exploring.

"I was
struck by the
richness of our
discussions,
and especially
the benefits of
talking about
those issues
from multiple
points of
view."

In the spring of 2012 Ron Kaufmann, professor of marine
biology and environmental studies at the University of San
Diego (USD), taught an honors seminar in environmental
studies that included an "embedded" spring break trip to the
Dominican Republic, together with colleagues Lance Nelson (theology) and Mark Woods (philosophy). "This kind of
activity has numerous benefits for students and faculty alike,"
Kaufmann says. "For faculty, the opportunity to collaborate
with colleagues from different disciplines is very exciting,
and the conversations we had while preparing and teaching this course have greatly enriched my perspective on the
subjects that I teach. For the students, the combination of
viewpoints from various academic disciplines and the real
world is particularly appealing. Too often, academia sets
itself apart from the day-to-day pressures that real people
face, and this course was a great way to connect the tradition
and outcomes of academic inquiry with practical aspects of
contemporary environmental issues."
Kaufmann's colleague, Lance Nelson, has also teamtaught "Religion and the Performing Arts in Bali," with
David Harnish from the USD music department. Apart
from two meetings on campus prior to departure, that class
took place entirely in Bali. According to Nelson, "There's
nothing like being 'on location' with students to demonstrate the need for interdisciplinarity. When you're in a
classroom, it's much easier to control the material and the
focus so that one can stay within the comfortable terrain
of one's own discipline. But when you're on the ground,
students are exposed to the reality of the subject in a kind
of full-spectrum way. Religion, politics, culture, history,
ecology, etc.-it all comes at you, all-at-once. When the students want to know, 'What's going on here?', it sure helps to
have multidisciplinary, multiperspectival expertise on tap."

Different Models
"Multidisciplinary" instruction in the context of study
abroad can take many forms. Kira Espiritu, director of
international studies describes two basic types offered at
40  

INTERNATIONAL EDUCATOR N O V + D E C .14

USD. "We have large faculty-led summer programs in London and Paris that are coordinated entirely by our office. At
each location, there are five to six different courses being
taught by USD faculty members from different disciplines.
Students choose to take just one course, but the orientation
and many of the cultural events and other group activities
are organized for all students and faculty members regardless of which course they are taking." In the second type
of program, Espiritu says, two or three professors from
completely different disciplines design a short-term course
that they co-teach, and then they travel together with their
students. "In these programs the students can choose the
type of credit they want, but all professors and all students
attend all of the lectures, activities, etc., and the teaching is
truly integrated as one seamless course."
In the first model, faculty members usually live near
each other and often interact socially outside of the formal events of the program: and just as with students, the
faculty members often find the experience of traveling and
experiencing a new culture together promotes bonding.
"Oftentimes, they find commonalities that they did not
know they had prior to spending time with each other,"
Espiritu says. "They often remark that when they are on
campus they get stuck within their own departments and
don't have the time to really get to know others across
campus." In some instances, the friendships formed among
faculty members abroad have helped to foster cross-discipline research ideas or new cotaught courses, either back
on campus or in future study abroad programs.
The second type of USD program, Espiritu says, is becoming popular among faculty members who have been
teaching multidisciplinary programs already on campus
and now want to extend their activities into an international context. "These professors already know each other
and have established relationships as they have worked to
develop their courses in tandem." She adds, "Both of these
types of programs definitely help to create more awareness of education abroad in the campus community."



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