Vol. 12. No. 2
Fall 2002


9 In the world of international education, commonly known as "study abroad," the University of Utah's International Semester program is unique — so unique, in fact, that it was recently awarded a grant by the U. S. Department of Education. Designed to accommodate our equally unique student population — many of whom can't leave work and/or families for the duration of a more traditional study abroad program — the International Semester incorporates on-campus courses with international field experience in countries such as India, Ecuador, Thailand, and Peru.

Here's how it works. Sally Student enrolls in three or four courses for a semester's worth of credit. Sally's courses, including one that fills a general education requirement, are interdisciplinary and linked to the study of a particular country. For example, she might take History 3530, Modern Japan; Philosophy 3630, Buddhist Thought; Political Science 3460, Government and Politics of Japan; and Undergraduate Studies 2005, U.S.-Japan Relations. She might also opt to take a Japanese language course. Sally then spends the first eight weeks of the semester on campus attending the courses, which prepare her for international field experience in Japan. During the next four weeks, Sally is on location in Japan with her International Semester peers and professor(s). In Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, she meets with experts in the fields of Japanese politics, economics, society, and arts, bringing to life the concepts she studied in her on campus courses. For the last three weeks of the semester, Sally is back on campus to complete her final project and group presentation.

The International Semester offers students like Sally the ability to combine academic preparation with direct experience in an international setting and culture. Students complement their majors with allied courses in other academic fields, and they build strong relationships with an International Semester cohort. In addition, they have opportunities for service, a newfound global perspective, and international travel experience.

From an institutional perspective, the International Semester is an example of a cooperative, interdisciplinary educational effort. The partnership brings together four colleges, 11 academic departments, six "lead" faculty and at least a dozen more on the "team," and the Office of Undergraduate Studies, the International Studies Board, the International Center, and Academic Outreach & Continuing Education.

Having participated in the semester in India as the faculty/staff administrator, I found that the program offered advantages different from those of a traditional study-abroad experience. The eight weeks of on-campus preparation helped us establish a good group dynamic and minimized our culture shock once we landed in New Delhi. The students' extensive knowledge of the country allowed them to travel through it with great respect, absorbing the impact of the cultural differences between the United States and a developing country. And our post-trip class sessions provided an opportunity to reflect on those differences and share our observations. As one participant put it, "I have grown a whole lifetime in one semester."

—Laura Snow BA'88 is special assistant to the president and secretary to the University.

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