Baylor Arts & Sciences magazine: New Lessons in an Old World

By Julie Carlson

For more than a century, Baylor professors have been taking students with them to study in countries around the globe. Each summer, faculty members from the College of Arts & Sciences from a range of disciplines lead trips across five continents that enrich both themselves and their students.

“Study abroad makes us more empathetic human beings. It removes myopic nationalistic concerns and teaches us to be citizens of the world, putting people above patriotism,” said Dr. Stan Denman, chair of theatre arts, who has led his department’s study abroad program for many years. “This focus is central to our mission as a Christian university.”

A quick look at a few Baylor summer study abroad programs involving Arts & Sciences faculty shows a wide range of experiences and subject matter.

Baylor in Budapest

Coordinated by the Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media, the Baylor in Budapest program has its students focus on two priorities –– producing travel media for the department’s website and immersing students in European culture. Students write an array of travel features covering everything involved in living in another country, and also take photos and make videos depicting their experiences. All of it is then published online.

“The goal is for the website to depict excellent student work that will make them more attractive to a future employer,” said trip sponsor Maxey Parrish, a senior lecturer in journalism, public relations and new media.

In Budapest, most students take classes in media writing and editing. A special studies course is available for students who want a unique educational experience, and the Writing for Media Markets course is available for non-journalism students. Some of Hungary’s top academicians lecture in classes.

“We want to understand why things are as they are in Hungary,” Parrish said. “This opens students’ minds to know that the world is full of people who, because of culture, see things from another perspective than theirs. Today’s well-educated young people must know how to deal with different cultures, because the major issues they’ll face throughout their lives are global in nature.”

Baylor Theatre Abroad

Baylor Theatre Abroad began in 2008 and sends students to Europe every other year to experience theater and theater-related historical sites in both English and non-English speaking countries. Participants always finish the trip with a week in London, including two or three days in Stratford-Upon-Avon, home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Students can take two courses — Theatre in Cultural Context and Playwright Study. There are usually 18 to 25 students and three faculty members on the trip. In 2018, Baylor Theatre Abroad will visit Greece, Italy and, of course, England.

“Because our students see so much theatre and examine storytelling in English and non-English speaking countries, they learn that modes of expression are very similar and the stories that emerge from the human condition are quite similar indeed,” Denman said. “It is great when non-French speaking students can step away from a French-speaking production of a Shakespearean play and say ‘That was one of the best Shakespearean plays I have ever seen and absolutely the best production of The Taming of the Shrew I have ever seen.’”

Language-based programs

Increasing fluency in another language plays a large part in most Arts & Sciences-related summer study abroad programs. Annual trips to Germany, Italy, China, Japan, South America and France center on giving Baylor language students a chance to progress rapidly in their written and conversational skills. Additionally, students wanting to improve their language skills can spend an entire semester abroad through Baylor-approved programs at foreign universities, such as the American University in Cairo to study Arabic.

Baylor in Spain is one of the university’s older summer study abroad programs, launched in the mid-1980s. The five-week long program holds its classes at Immanuel Baptist Church in Madrid. Faculty teach two second-year language courses as well as upper-level courses in language, conversation and composition, Spanish civilization and a special topics course on Spanish pop culture. The trips average 30 to 35 students. Three teaching faculty members usually go along, as well as a lecturer who does tutoring and handles other details.

“While Baylor in Spain doesn’t involve total immersion, in that students travel together and often speak English on our bus, students have many opportunities to speak Spanish. They live with Spanish families and must speak Spanish at their houses,” said Dr. Frieda Blackwell, professor of Spanish and an associate dean for undergraduate studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. She oversees the program with Dr. Paul Larson, professor of Spanish.

Blackwell enjoys introducing students to a country she finds fascinating because of its history and relation to the United States. The program enables her to teach more “hands-on.”

“I love teaching Spanish Civilization because we can look at the photos in the textbook, and then we actually see many of those places,” Blackwell said. “Sometimes we get to see the familiar in a different context. Last summer, we took students to see ‘El Rey León,’ which is ‘The Lion King’ in Spanish. It was a full-scale Broadway-type production with fabulous costuming –– but all in Spanish with Spanish cultural changes.”

As part of the six-year-old Baylor in Japan study abroad program, students take part in a six-week hybrid course in which the first two weeks of classes are followed by a four-week trip spent on the Hosei University campus in Tokyo. While in Tokyo, students visit major landmarks and museums and take part in cultural seminars, company visits, special lectures, and more. Students also have an opportunity to stay one weekend in the homes of local Japanese families.

Two weeks are spent traveling to historic sites in Japan and taking part in service learning activities –– one of the major highlights of the program.

“While in Japan, students get to experience both traditional and pop cultures,” said Dr. Yuko Prefume, the senior lecturer in Japanese who leads the trip. “Examples of traditional cultures are taiko (Japanese drum) lessons, shodo (Japanese calligraphy) and sado (Japanese tea ceremony). To experience a pop culture, students visit the neighborhoods of Akihabara and Harajuku, destinations of Japanese anime and fashion fans.”

Service learning has been a hallmark of the Baylor in Japan program since its inception. The catastrophic Great East Earthquake and tsunami in 2011 left more than 18,000 dead or missing and more than 340,000 displaced, and each summer since Baylor students have learned more about the devastation by visiting the area and speaking personally with survivors.

“I felt the need of going to the area devastated by the tsunami to volunteer. I thought serving others in the area affected by the catastrophic tsunami would make a transformative learning opportunity for the students.” Prefume said.

Watching students gain confidence in their study of Japanese, as well as gaining an understanding of diverse cultures and developing compassion towards others, has confirmed the value of the program to Prefume. Baylor in Budapest’s Maxey Parrish agrees.

“A student once told me at the end of our time there, ‘I’m going home a truer version of myself,’” he said. “This meant they’d not just been on a trip to Europe, they’d taken a journey of self-discovery. They had not just acquired skills, but they’d learned more about who they are. If that doesn’t make you want to take part in study abroad, I don’t know what does.”

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