Faculty presence grows overseas as new programs are launched

Applications due April 13 for spring 2012 semester in The Hague, Israel

Photo/Stacey Levine

A view of Prague taken by study abroad student Stacey Levine.

When Professor Richard Gaskins took a group of 18 undergraduates to The Hague in the summer of 2010, it was an opportunity to teach them about the legal system in a city known for international peace and justice, courts and tribunals.

It was also a test, and not just for the students.

The program passed and will be offered as a full semester beginning in the spring of 2012. Applications are due April 13.

horizontal blue bar
Want to study abroad?
horizontal blue bar

"It was clear that it wasn't going to be a summer camp or a cruise tour," says Gaskins, the legal studies program director who had designed the six-week course as a pilot program in cooperation with Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies of the University of Leiden. "It really was a matter of the faculty, who know Brandeis students well, and what they could accomplish, trying to set up as ambitious a program as we could."

That included studying with Dutch professors and students, whom Gaskins says "tend to either underestimate or overestimate" American students; participating in workshops with lawyers from around the world; and visiting foreign courts, judges and prosecutors.

Gaskins called it an "intense but wonderful period of time," and said students' response to the experience made it clear that a full semester in The Hague made sense.

More than 45 percent of Brandeis undergraduates participate in 250 study abroad programs administered by foreign universities or consortium organizations, but only a handful, like Brandeis in The Hague are Brandeis-run.

Even as those statistics nationally rank Brandeis as one of the top 20 research universities for sending students abroad, according to the Institute of International Education, international programming continues to expand.

This month the Office of Study Abroad also announced its new Brandeis University Middlebury Program in Israel. Based on the foundation laid by the Brandeis University Middlebury Summer School of Hebrew, the new program will launch in the spring of 2012, with students enrolling in Ben Gurion University in Beer-Sheva.

"Students who participate on this program will be engaged in a city with a diverse population; a true window to the Israeli society," says Professor Vardit Ringvald, director of the Hebrew Language Program at Brandeis. "It's a chance to live and learn with Israelis while immersing oneself in the Hebrew language."

Like Brandeis in The Hague, there is an April 13 application deadline for the program, which will likely accept 10 to 15 students per semester. Students will sign pledges to speak only Hebrew during the semester.

"This is virtually the first time Brandeis has run semester abroad programs since it's founding," says J. Scott Van Der Meid, the assistant dean of academic services and director of study abroad.

Brandeis-run programs, however, aren't the only ones in which Brandeis professors get involved. Paola Servino, a senior lecturer in Italian language and culture, traveled to Sicily in the summer of 2010 as a visiting professor with CET Academic Programs.

"Probably the last person they want to see when they study abroad is Brandeis faculty," she jokes. "The experience opened them up a little more about life, survival skills, but it's good to have a connection with him, some sort of safety net."

She says it's also a good opportunity for Brandeis faculty to have some control over the curriculum. But Servino, who spent two months in Sicily with three Brandeis students, as well as students from other American universities, says they were also immersed in the local culture and community, as few people speak English there.

"Creating environments like this abroad, where courses can be taught by Brandeis faculty, liaisons traveling with students, enlarge possibilities beyond the campus," Servino says.

Junior Jake Laband appreciated that safety net when he visited Beijing last summer with the Harvard Beijing Academy. He was one of three Brandeis students in the program founded by Yu Feng, an associate professor of Chinese at Brandeis.

Laband says the nine-week program covered a year's worth of Chinese coursework, making it the most intense academic experience of his life. It involved 12- to 13-hour days, but Laband knew Feng was always a resource for him, and he returned fluent, which made his fall semester in another study abroad program that much easier.

"He's very encouraging but also very strict, and he isn't afraid to challenge you," Laband says. "I knew going into it that it would be tough, but I also knew up front I could to him if I had any problems."

Laband's experience participating in multiple study abroad programs isn't unusual at a school like Brandeis that emphasizes global education.

"If a student spends a year studying abroad, that means they're doing a fourth of their work overseas," Van Der Meid, noting that all outside programs undergo a vigorous approval process, and having Brandeis professors involved adds a different dimension.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, International Affairs, Student Life

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage