Author: Daina Solomon
For many students, college years are ideal for foreign travel and study. Students participating in study abroad programs can combine academics with immersion in foreign cultures and further their understanding of the world.
Students usually choose locations related to their area of study and often hope to strengthen their foreign language skills. Though typically students schedule programs for one semester, some are as brief as a holiday vacation or as long as an entire academic year.
At Occidental, study abroad programs not only enrich students’ experiences but also support the school’s mission of preparing students for “leadership in an increasingly complex, interdependent and pluralistic world,” according to Oxy’s Off Campus Study Guide. The guide also notes, “Study abroad helps to engender responsible participation in a global, multi-cultural society.”
Oxy’s International Programs Office (IPO) offers over fifty study abroad programs worldwide and provides numerous resources to students at all stages of the study abroad experience. The IPO encourages students to maintain some type of journal while abroad, for instance, through the use of blogs.
“A blog can serve as a personal journal, photo album, and sort of electronic scrapbook for students as they reflect on their experience in another culture,” IPO Director Susan Popko said.
Blogs distinguish themselves from basic journals in that they utilize a variety of media including text, images, video, audio and links to other websites. Some blogs are basic event updates, while others reflect on cultural observations.
Study abroad blogs also serve as a resource for on-campus students in that they offer a wealth of information about programs all over the world from an intimate, first-hand point of view. “Blogs offer a personal perspective on the study abroad experience,” Popko said. “Blog-writing on a regular basis can help students focus on the small details that may be significant, out of the ordinary or simply amusing.” As an example, she recalled one student’s analysis of English chocolate bars.
Amy Mahanay (junior), a Spanish and French Studies double major, has taken full advantage of Oxy’s study abroad program. She spent the Fall 2008 semester in Paris, France and will spend the Spring 2009 Semester in Salamanca, Spain. Mahanay chose to study abroad mainly to enhance her proficiency in French and Spanish.
“I chose to study abroad to enhance my language skills, but I have gained so much more than that,” she said.Mahanay created a photo-blog in order to share images of her time abroad. Her blog is hosted by the program that coordinated her studies in France and Spain, the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES). Many study abroad program websites offer students the opportunity to establish blogs on their sites. These programs usually choose a select number of students to create and maintain blogs. The IES program selected Mahanay as one of thirty-one student bloggers from a pool of 150 applicants.
Mahanay appreciates the value of a blog as a way to preserve her memories. “I want to be able to remember my experiences twenty or fifty years from now and to show my kids and grandkids pictures and share memories with them,” she said. She also hopes her positive experiences will inspire readers to go abroad.
Mallory Nezam (senior), a Religious Studies major, shares Mahanay’s enthusiasm for Study Abroad blogs. She created her own blog while studying in Hyderabad, India in Spring 2008. Unlike Mahanay’s blog, Nezam’s employs a prose-poetry writing style and is hosted on a personal site.
“When you’re truly interested in how your friends see the world, reading their blogs is fascinating,” she said. Nezam also looked to compare experiences. “It was especially important to me to keep up to date with other friends abroad, because I too was abroad, and I was curious to know their insights and how they were dealing with their experiences.”
Nezam initially resisted the idea of a blog, and said, “I just wanted India to happen to me.” She began her blog to share day-to-day experiences with friends and family. “The blog gave me a way of sorting out what was going on. Writing for others morphed into writing for me.” Back at Oxy, Nezam is now completing her senior comprehensive project on Hinduism and the environment of India’s Ganges River, inspired by her study abroad program.
Study abroad applications for the fall 2009 semester were due on Monday, Feb. 2. Information about the study abroad process can be found at the International Programs Office in Weingart 101, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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