Monthly Archives: July 2010

Teaching East German History within an Interdisciplinary Study Abroad Program

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In recent years, many once traditional departments of German Languages and Literatures underwent a transformation to German Studies departments. These German Studies departments now include the teaching of German history, art, philosophy, gender studies, European Studies, and more in addition to language and literature instruction. The implications of this progressive expansion of German Studies need to be considered. Furthermore, budget restrictions oftentimes call for the merger of several departments, and interdisciplinary approaches are increasingly supported and demanded by the administration, also contributing to the need for a restructuring of German programs. The question remains how to ensure a steady enrollment in traditional German language and literature courses and to prepare students for a much changed job market in the field of German at the same time. It is therefore important to consider new ways of attracting students to German other than through language study and the exposure to German through literature.
Another major concern of higher education in the United States is the focus on international education. Compared to their international counterparts, American students in the past have had relatively limited exposure to global education including study abroad. The US government has increased its efforts to support study abroad experiences for American students at the secondary, but also at the post-secondary level. Generally, participation in study abroad programs has increased among undergraduates throughout the United States; however the trend seems to go towards short term study abroad programs rather than semester or year-long programs. As Cate Brubaker noted, there are numerous positive aspects of short-term study abroad programs such as minimal interruption of the students’ academic year at the home institution and the ability to take courses abroad that are compulsory at the home institution to fulfill general education requirements. Furthermore, as these programs are typically faculty-led, parents and students feel more secure.[1]
Although study abroad participation has increased significantly over the past decade among American undergraduates, college programs across the nation need to be proactive in their efforts to convince American students of the benefits of this aspect of a college education and attract them to such programs. In the following paper, I will describe a study abroad program at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh that is aimed at internationalizing our students’ educational experience through an innovative approach. This program is not tied to a specific discipline, but is truly interdisciplinary, but nevertheless succeeds in attracting students to the German division through the inclusion of a topic course on modern German history and society. I will give a general overview of the history of this program and its components, and will then focus on the course on modern German history that I taught in Germany over the past few years.

[1] See: Brubaker, Cate. “Six Weeks in the EIFEL: A Case for Cultural Learning during the Short-Term Study Abroad.”

Salient Issues in Faculty-Led Study Abroad Programs

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Strong study abroad opportunities can greatly contribute to the strength of a stateside university German program. First, obviously, is the valuable experience the student has living at the on-site location, which can greatly enhance the student’s linguistic abilities and cultural knowledge. Second, study abroad programs generate student enthusiasm for learning German, often converting study abroad participants into German minors, and minors into majors. Students returning from study abroad programs are truly excited about the language and self-confident about their capabilities in the language and in life. Students learn to deal with unknown and unexpected situations in a new culture, thus contributing to their problem-solving skills. They are often even more eager to continue studying German. These students’ zeal can spread to other students, who then apply to study abroad, thus continuing the growing spiral and contributing to the vitality of a university’s German program.

When examining faculty-led study abroad programs, a number of points should be taken into consideration. Summer programs usually offer a more affordable price and a time frame that will more likely fit into a university student’s curriculum. Semester programs, on the other hand, present the student with a longer, much more in depth array of experiences and linguistic practice. A faculty-led program for students exclusively from one’s own university also has advantages and disadvantages. The faculty member has a greater chance to become acquainted with student participants before leaving the States. Often, a closer tie with the students at one’s university already exists, and participating students may already be focused on the central aim of the study abroad program. However, it is not always easy to accrue a sufficient number of students from one university to enable a program to go and also to cover the expenses of the faculty member(s). If only one faculty member accompanies a student group, problems may occur if the faculty member must concentrate on one student due to a severe illness or other such diversions. The director may become overwhelmed with tasks while also being responsible for teaching a course. For this reason, it is vital that another faculty member knowledgeable about life in the German-speaking country be a part of the trip. Alternatively, many faculty members prefer directing in a program within a consortium, in which a number of universities help supply the total number of students in the program, and other faculty from member institutions contribute to teaching and supporting the director.

This essay will focus on the study abroad experience that is led and directed by a faculty member, using the experiences of my summer Austria-Bregenz Program of the consortium Kentucky Institute for International Studies. I began directing the program in 1996. The Austria-Bregenz program regularly has 36-39 students and a total of five faculty from institutions in the consortium, as well as occasional students from non-consortium universities. Approximately six to twelve students from my university, Murray State University, participate in the program each summer from the end of May to the beginning of July. Besides three levels of German instruction (beginning German through third year) and two business classes, other courses offered depend on the faculty chosen to teach in any given year. While some readers may see the program as too English-oriented, one must recognize that the program was created to provide faculty with professional development opportunities and students with the chance to study in a German-speaking country, even if they had never studied German. Every summer students who had not previously studied German return from Bregenz to their home institutions and study German there. Having a positive impact on students and on our respective programs at home is our goal.