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Easy 'A' abroad

By Caitlin Huston, Daily News Editor
Published October 16, 2011

When something goes wrong, you can’t call up your mom,” Gill said.

For language concentrators like Gill, Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola, a Spanish professor and associate chair of the romance languages and literature department, said he believes study-abroad is essential for proficiency and for furthering student learning.

“The one thing is to be in a classroom setting at the (University), which will give you a lot of knowledge and sort of preparing you for being abroad and so forth. But the experience I think is really important to put that to the test,”Herrero-Olaizola said.

Herrero-Olaizola added that because the language curriculum now places more of an emphasis on cultural knowledge, study-abroad offers a great entryway into the culture.

“We like the idea of proficiency, not only linguistic but cultural proficiency as well,” he said. “The two go together, because you can’t just learn the language in a vacuum. So we encourage our students to go to find this cultural and linguistic immersion say in France or Spain.”

With the ideal mixture of culture and language, Herrero-Olaizola believes going abroad as a 20-year-old is the “right time” in life, because of the way the experience shapes students’ understanding of the world.

“I think going in your 20s is good for the kind of exposure you have to different people, different cultures and also for forcing you to be in a position to dealing with the unknown, the unexpected … ” he said.

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As he sat at his desk, LSA senior David Frankel’s classroom tilted, rocking back and forth, as each ocean wave brought students’ heads closer to their desks, lulling them to sleep.

In his moving classroom, Frankel was one of the 14 University students participating in Semester at Sea last winter, or what he says is affectionately known across campuses as a “booze cruise.”

However, Frankel emphasized that the boat complete with housekeeping services, a beauty salon and swimming pool, is not actually a booze cruise. But with five-credits that amount to 22 total days of class from January to April, he acknowledges that his education took place on shore.

“I would say the majority of the learning experience took place in the countries and not in the classroom,” Frankel said.

Traveling across the world from the Bahamas to Ghana to Singapore, Frankel said the ship would dock at each country, and then students were on their own to explore.

“It was literally like they dropped you off (and said), ‘be back on the boat by this time on this date or we’re leaving without you,’ ” he said.

In the countries he visited, Frankel said he learned valuable lessons from tour guides showing him the poverty in India and by seeing the resilience of the people in face of despair.

“It was more eye-opening than a textbook could ever teach,” Frankel said. “I definitely feel like after seeing some of these things it puts everything bad at home into perspective.”

On the ship filled with about 700 professors and their families, college students aboard the ship and adult students from around the world, Frankel said he gained perspective himself, as he, a Jew, became good friends with a Muslim girl from Jordan.

And as Frankel learned and ultimately decided to pursue an international career, he said he thinks Semester at Sea was the right choice for a study abroad program.

“I would never regret missing out on an experience (in Ann Arbor) because I think I learned more in one semester than I have in my entire life,” he said.

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At the University, the Center for Global and Intercultural Study administers 100 study abroad programs in 40 countries.


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