Over There

For my first series of posts, I’d like to invite you to join me in the summer-long process of turning an on-campus, lecture-based class on the history of World War I into a travel course that will see me leading a troupe of twenty students on a three-week tour of cities and battlefield sites in England, Belgium, France, and Germany. (“Over there,” as George Cohan’s popular patriotic song called Europe.)

Sheet music for "Over There" by George M. Cohan
"Over There" - from Johns Hopkins University Library

I won’t actually be taking the first such trip until January 2013 (or maybe 2014), but the relevant proposals need to be completed by early October, so I’ve already spent much of my break working on them.

My goal is to take you through the course one day at a time, with each post previewing something I expect to emphasize at that point in the trip: a course theme, a pivotal event, a poem/play/painting/film, a museum or memorial site we’re visiting, a difficult question raised, etc.

To get started, let me ask for your feedback on a few questions. While I’ve traveled to Europe a few times, and even lived in England and France for half a year while doing dissertation research, I never studied abroad during my undergraduate years, nor have I led such a trip before. So I’m curious:

  • If you had a study abroad experience in college, what was most valuable about it, at the time and in retrospect?
  • What surprised you about the experience (positively or negatively)?
  • If you’ve taught a January/May term (or semester) abroad, what have you learned about the process that you wish you knew the first time you did it?
  • What about on-campus teaching was hardest to give up? What did you gain by going off-campus?

Coming up Monday: we get the ball rolling by helping students to imaginatively immerse themselves in turn-of-the-century America…

6 thoughts on “Over There

  1. I wish this trip would have been an option during my years at Bethel! Sounds amazing!!! Make sure you still sing the songs together though! 😛

  2. Studying abroad in Oxford in ’05 I found that the most valuable part about it were the contacts I made and the learning community we developed. I still keep in close contact with a number of the students I studied with on that trip. I wish, however that I would have taken my nose out of my books for a moment to enjoy the fact that I was in Europe. While I’ve gotten to go back several times now and do all the things I didn’t do then, I think that your students will appreciate the hands on learning that comes from visiting historic sites. I’d try to keep homework while actually on the trip at a minimum.

    I also appreciated being immersed in a culture and really getting to know a city, and although that part would be harder on a J-term trip, I think that getting student out of their comfort zone and experiencing cultures is the interesting part. Plus, while studying history, you can also study how culture today has shaped because of/in spite of things like WWI.

    A few logistics tips:
    – While I haven’t brought college students over to Europe, my experience with 17 year olds (a little different, but probably not as different as you might think…) has taught me that although there is a ton of things you might want to see in a specific place (even if the students are very interested), that stopping for a coffee or a leisurely meal often necessary during the middle of the day.
    – Free time to wander is appreciated. When you can, set a strict meeting time/place and allow students to do their own thing (if that can fall into the lesson plans). I know this helped when I studied abroad and we had museum-wanderers that all went at their own pace.
    – You’ll have to do more “team-building” and worrying about group dynamics than you would in a normal class. In a normal class, if there is a student that doesn’t really become engaged it can be (sadly) written off. If there is a study abroad student (even in a college course) that is not engaged with the group, especially if the group travels a lot, it becomes a liability for everyone both in terms of attitude and (sometimes) in knowing where that person is. With a class like this that is optional, you’d hope that everyone would be engaged, but you never know.
    – Looking like a tour guide (clipboard, etc) can often score you as the leader free coffee or admission at tourist destinations. 🙂
    – Try to choose restaurants with a variety of types of food or eat in areas where students can choose from a variety of places and then meet up afterwards. Some picky eaters become extremely stressed out by food selections.
    – At least in England, it’s amazing how tickets for events become available if you call back with a (good) British accent.
    – All groups walk slower than you would ever possibly imagine. Plan more time than you’d think would be necessary to get from place to place.
    – Call ahead if possible, even if it is a free museum. Or, send students into the museum in groups of 3 or 4.

    Sorry for the long response!! I get carried away, and I’m in tour mood as I leave tomorrow again for the UK. 🙂

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