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  Off Campus Study Opportunities

Commentary

Hope Offers the World
- Greg Olgers '87
(February 2003, "News from Hope College")

It is the sort of brain-teasing advice that Yoda might share in a "Star Wars" film: "To find what here you seek, look elsewhere for a time you must."

Paradoxical as it sounds, the idea makes perfect sense to those from Hope who have lived it. As much as they love what they learn and gain as part of the campus community, they find that off-campus study adds important dimensions to their education--dimensions that complement their experience at the college. "I'm very passionate about the Hope experience, and I think that the Philadelphia program and other programs like it really exemplify the mission statement and the goals that Hope has for its students," said Brad Chassee '01, who spent a semester in the Pennsylvania city. "I think I gained so much more out of my senior year at Hope--was able to draw so much more out of the experience because of the opportunities that I had had," he said. "You come back to Hope a much more well-rounded person in so many areas of your life." The manifold lessons derive from in-depth experience with new perspectives and situations. Students encounter diverse peoples, places and ways of doing things as living, active reality, at the same time learning to appreciate their own ability to apply the lessons they have learned at Hope. "I think students learn a lot about themselves," said Tony Muiderman, professor emeritus of business administration, a strong advocate of off-campus study who was one of Chassee's Hope mentors. "They learn a lot about other people." "I think their view of the world is enlarged," he said.

"Students who study off-campus domestically and especially internationally have this incredible cultural milieu that they operate in," agreed Dr. Neal Sobania '68, director of international education and professor of history. "They learn to communicate in it. They learn to move in it. They learn to adapt to it." "All of those things are things that we simply cannot teach on campus, no matter how good our faculty are, no matter how good our courses are, no matter how good our textbooks are, no matter how good our library is," Dr. Sobania said. According to Dr. Sobania, interest in study abroad in particular has been on the rise across the nation, even in the wake of 9/11. "Students have been way ahead of us in recognizing that all of the concerns that we have in the world today--with terrorism, and Iraq, with globalization, with poverty haves and have-nots--are issues that their generation is going to be faced with," he said. Hope is affiliated with six domestic programs and more than 50 international programs that offer semester- or year-long experiences. Many of the study-abroad programs require proficiency in a foreign language (and are the best way to become fluent), but many are suited to English speakers. The mix provides a variety of options as students seek the right fit.

Senior Tim Stowe of Holland, Mich., for example, is a biology major who studied in Botswana last year because he wanted to broaden himself culturally. "I think that Hope gives a phenomenal education, but you can't cover everything that's out there," he said. "It was exceptionally valuable to go over there and hear things from a different perspective and to experience other people's world views that I learned very quickly were different from my own." At the same time, Stowe also enjoyed a new research experience. He had worked on-campus with geneticist Dr. James Gentile. He spent the spring of 2002 with a different focus, in the field considering the nourishment available to free-ranging species like the wild buffalo and zebra. "It gave me a chance to supplement my degree here with some experience in ecology," Stowe said. "The project that I started is being continued now by a graduate student from Sweden." As an accounting major and a starter on the women's basketball team, senior Amanda Kerkstra of Grandville, Mich., sought a program that would match her academic focus and wouldn't conflict with her two-semester sport, which competes November-March. She found it in 2001 at the University of Wollongong in Australia, where the semester runs from July through October. She valued the opportunity to become immersed in the culture, and to define her own priorities in a setting that was much less structured than she was used to. Finding a church to attend wasn't a given--she had to work at it. Staying conditioned for her sport on her own required additional resolve. "It's about discipline," she said. "I knew I had to be in the gym. It was where I placed it within my day."

Chassee, too, valued the different perspectives that he encountered--his housemates came not only from multiple schools but abroad as well. Study in domestic programs like the Philadelphia Center involves an internship experience, and he also appreciated the opportunity to consider the relationship between his values and his career aspirations. "I came back asking questions like 'How do I serve God?,' 'How do I reflect my values in my position?,'" he said. "I realized that it was the person that determined how you served, and not the position that you were in." Chassee, who now lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., went to work with Herman Miller Inc. after graduation, and now works in human resources at Ridgeview Industries, handling a variety of responsibilities including corporate training. In addition to the perspective that the program helped inspire, he also credits the experience with making him more marketable. "It gives you the confidence to work independently and make decisions," he said. "Life is not black-and-white. A career is in the gray area, and someone who has been to Philadelphia understands that." Mark Dittmar '95 also found career focus through his off-campus program, the Great Lakes Colleges Association New York Arts Semester. He was interested in the technical side of theatre, and his internship supplemented his training at Hope. "Getting into theatre at Hope was a phenomenal background to what I'm doing," Dittmar said. "And then I came to New York and started to apply every aspect of what I'd learned."

His internship developed contacts that ultimately led him to success as a freelancer in sound design and his current position on the staff of Firehouse Productions, which specializes in awards programs. "As far as the TV awards shows go, it's a very small family," he said. "Once you know three people you know half the industry out here, so word-of-mouth gets you very far." Dittmar has worked with programs including MTV's "Total Request Live" and the VH-1 Fashion Awards and Peter Gabriel's current tour, and will be working with this year's Grammys. In 2001 he was the sound system designer for the New York portion of the multi-network "A Tribute to Heroes" program, which aired shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The program received the Emmy for "Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special." The decision to study off-campus isn't always easy. Chassee, for example, weighed the potential benefits of study in Philadelphia against the positive experiences that he knew he would also have in activities at Hope. Kerkstra, in the same way, considered her obligation to the team and--not least of all--the impact on her family, including five younger sisters who made it clear that she would be missed. In the end, it was in part with her siblings in mind that she opted to go abroad. "I wanted to pave the way for my sisters," she said. "I didn't want them to think West Michigan was all there was." She succeeded. During one of her calls home, her 11-year-old sister affirmed her choice.

"She said to me over the phone, 'Amanda, I get it. I get why you had to go. And I want to go now.'"

 

The Importance of Studying Abroad
- Timothy Stowe '03

Chances are that moving into your dormitory freshman year filled you with feelings of excitement, anticipation and maybe even a smidgen of fear. Piece by piece, you hauled every single thing you owned up a seemingly perpetual staircase and crammed each and every item into the closet-sized room you and your roommate would soon be strangely referring to as home. Sweating profusely, arms wrapped around your television set, leaving just enough room to expose the top of your head and eyes, you passed by countless other individuals, engaged in the same activities, whom you still had yet to meet. Keeping a straight face, you tried to look as coolly composed as possible, as if you had done this countless times before. Eventually, you settled down and settled in.

The daily routine of walking to classes in concert with the mere exposure effect eventually led to your recognizing faces and those faces recognizing you. You started greeting passers-by that had become your classmates and friends. This too eventually became second nature.

Within days, you started partaking in the normal activities of leisure pursued by college-aged kids across the nation. All the while doing so in the context of Holland , MI and Hope College . You were not only becoming a college student, you were becoming a Hope College student. You were becoming a Hope College student that knew all the other Hope College students and all the great places Hope College students like to hang out, eat, relax, etc. Once again, the soon became automatic.

You were involved in the same activities as your friends. You discussed the same current events, read the same books, grew concerned for the same social issues, periodically shared the same opinions and values, took the same classes and occasionally learned the same lessons. You had finally chosen a major. College eventually became the thrilling intellectual journey you had expected and you had finally realized it.

Nonetheless, there is something we oftentimes all too easily forget

Patched within the details of your Hope College life, you can probably recall flickering moments of instability. For example, sharing stories with high school friends during the holidays about each other’s respective schools probably always felt a little strange. Visiting those friends at their alien institutions, you were surrounded by just enough short-lived chaos to cause you to wonder and simultaneously forget about the obvious differences that exist between your schools. You probably felt a little awkward more than a few times trying to explain parietals and swearing that their existence did not make Hope College the lamest place to spend four (or more) years.

Once your Hope College life is well on its way you’ll probably start to think about how you will go about pursuing life’s next steps. Eventually, we all start feeling ready for immersion into the career-based jungle that is everyday life for 3 million other Americans. Once we feel acceptably confident, responsible and educated enough to start making money and contributing to whatever facet of society we choose appropriate for ourselves, we make the move. There comes a time when we feel like every piece of the puzzle fits just right and we desire bigger, more challenging puzzles to solve. So, we graduate.

This is reality for a good percentage of students at Hope College and other students in colleges and universities across the nation. For nearly all of these graduates, things work out just fine and after a short adaptation period, they successfully adjust their worldview and perceptions to the heterogeneity of the real world. They somehow miraculously learn to adapt to all of the situations, people, ideas and events for which the Hope College life and mindset did not prepare them.

But during key moments of our own personal development, we still somehow manage to pass over the existence of all those things that strike us as new and different once we’re gallivanting around in the real world. We have to gather ourselves together, rethink a few things that hadn’t ever occurred to us before and micro-adjust our own self-images, for what we hope is, one last time.

The irrefutable fact of the matter is that, to some degree, we are all going to come across things we hadn’t prepared for once we’re in the real world. Some things will strike us as backwards, seriously flawed, maybe even disturbing. Maybe we’ll be able to help fix those things. However, there are also things that will strike us as novel and leave us scratching our heads, wondering why we hadn’t ever heard of this, done this or thought that way before.

Fortunately, there is good news for all of us. While we incubate and mature in our Hope College culture dish, thousands of other college students are simultaneously soaking up the nutrients supplied by their own unique academic environments. The good news is that these students, like most of us, are eager to share their ideas and perspectives with those interested enough to listen. As a combined result of the interaction between the different professors, different classes and different experiences that students who attend other colleges and universities, these other college students have developed their own views of how things are.

Sometimes admitting that even though we feel we are well educated and fairly well prepared for the world out there, there still exists a plentitude of information and experiences to which we’ve not been privy. New books, authors, magazines, opinions, places, landmarks, people, styles of thinking and methods of approach that we’ve never heard of are all over, in the minds of thousands of students, waiting to be discovered.

How can you get access to some of this invaluable information before it is too late and you've already been thrust into a strangling clenches of the unforgiving world? Study abroad. Start looking at countries and different programs, pick some that interest you, fill out a few applications and get on a plane and do it.

Among the most commonly cited benefits for studying abroad include immersion in a foreign culture, increased self-reliance, fluency in a foreign language, improvement of your college résumé and the amazing benefits of being able to look at yourself and your home culture through another culture.

However, not much has been written about the benefits of sharing ideas and experiences with the other college students on your trip. Most study abroad programs have a general academic theme, which coincidentally pairs you with students who have similar interests and career goals. All these students, who you get to know very well throughout the course of your semester abroad, ultimately share an impressive amount of information with one another while simultaneously processing the sometimes life-changing experiences they come across throughout their semester together.

In any event, the knowledge with which you are empowered by studying abroad, whether it comes from the host culture or the other students on your trip, really and truly does prove to be invaluable. The testimonies of the study abroad alumni serve as a stand-alone justification for any college student to spend a semester abroad. In addition to the commonly cited benefits of studying abroad, which prove irrefutably worthwhile, this knowledge sharing is also exceedingly important.

Finally, if intellectual stimulation and growth is that for which you search, you would be gravely mistaken if you decided it would not be worth your while to study abroad. Quite honestly, the experiences you have while studying abroad can be the most significant emotional, spiritual and intellectual experiences of a lifetime.