Inside USD

Specializing International Reach for Sophomores

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The University of San Diego has firmly established itself as a destination university for students to explore available international academic opportunities. Ranked second nationally for student study abroad participation in a recent study, USD is committed to expanding its reach wherever possible.

The newest idea, one that’s been nearly two years in the making, commences Jan. 3-21 in three cities: Florence, Italy; Barcelona, Spain; and Oxford/London, England. In a collaborative effort between USD’s departments of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, the Second-Year Experience Abroad 2011 program is designed to become a signature highlight for all future sophomore students.

Open only to USD students in the Class of 2013 this time — organization for 2012 for the Class of 2014 is well underway — sophomores not only take a three-unit class abroad, but they participate in small group discussions with an integrated learning staff of USD professionals, attend special events, take field trips and go on a weekend excursion. It’s also structured to help students enrich their connection to USD and other students.

All participants took a one-unit Global Studies class this fall to learn more about their destination. Topics included economics, history, politics, religion and sustainability and students did poster projects centered on these topics. Furthermore, students got to meet new classmates prior to the trip as well as meeting staff and faculty.

“This is a totally unique model,” said Kira Espiritu, director of USD’s study abroad program in the International Center. “A lot of other universities do a first-year experience for freshmen, but not many put on a program built for second-year students.”

Espiritu said 180 students are participating in the inaugural program. Florence, with 92, has the largest contingent, followed by Barcelona (64) and Oxford/London (24). As expected in the first year of any new program, there have been some changes and some challenges and weather is always subject to change, but it hasn’t dampened the mood of those who are going.

“I am very excited about going and being a part of the first year of this program,” said Dayanne Izmirian, assistant dean of Residential Life in Student Affairs, who will accompany students to Barcelona. “I think it’s going to be a great learning environment for the students and it will be an amazing professional experience for me.”

Izmirian is one of eight members of USD’s integrated learning staff. Izmirian will be joined in Barcelona by Michael and Erin Lovette-Colyer, director of University Ministry and the Women’s Center, respectively. Donald Godwin, USD Dean of Students, will attend the Oxford trip. The Florence group, because it has the largest number of students, has four staff members: Merrick Marino (Student Affairs), Mark Peters (University Ministry), Matt Kuder and Nicki Schuessler (Residential Life).

Staff members, each of whom have been in contact with trip participants since the second semester of their freshman year, will attend events and organize opportunities for students to reflect on what they’ve seen and done.

“I’m excited to participate in something that’s educational and to hear the conversation in the small groups,” said Kuder, community director for USD’s Alcala Vista Apartments. “It will be fun to see the excitement from the students as they share their experiences and it helps them connect it back (to USD).”

Classes available in each city differ. In Florence, the courses are art history, history, introduction to Catholic Theology, Italian 201 and World Religions. Barcelona has art history and history, ethics, Spanish 201 (two sections) and World Religions. The Oxford/London group has two classes, literature and World Religions.

Espiritu said each city has a full calendar of events, as all students will see and do different things to complement their classroom learning. Students in the Barcelona and Florence groups, for instance, will each attend a soccer match. Oxford/London students will visit Warwick Castle, Stonehenge and Bath as well as spend their final week in London. Barcelona highlights include visits to Figueres (home of artist Salvador Dali’s Teatro Museo), Girona and Tarrgona and an overnight trip to Valencia. Florence participants will visit Bologna and will spend a night and two days in Rome.

Each trip offers students the chance to really connect to what they’re observing in person and for it to reinforce what was taught in the Global Studies course.

“The class really helped the students prepare for going abroad,” said David Hay, an adjunct English professor at USD and academic director for the Oxford/London trip.

Hay, who has anchored USD’s summer study abroad program in Oxford and London for nine years, said combining the usual course trip with an integrated component helps students expand their knowledge.

“It’s hard to operate in the world without some kind of global consciousness; whether it’s climate or economics, it is one big connected piece,” Hay said. “Anything that happens in the world affects everything else and we want to further our students’ understanding.”

Or, as Hay recalled one fall lecturer tell his students: “Going abroad is more than just architecture and ice cream.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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