Study abroad programs can take students to nearly every corner of the world, providing a chance to learn something about an entirely different culture. So why does it seem like most students end up in Western Europe? Here are some programs that will take you outside the ordinary.
Transitioning to Eastern Europe
Here\’s a study abroad program in Europe that will take you outside more typical countries into a truly different side of the continent.
Spend five days in Hungary visiting Budapest, the largest Eastern European city. Then spend two weeks each in Cluj, a city in Romania, and Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey. Folke Lindahl, Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy professor, said any major is welcome on the program, but that James Madison College students typically participate. [europe pic]
During earlier years, the program looked at former communist countries in Eastern Europe. However, Lindahl said the program is now looking for a new title, concentrating more on problems of political economic power and democratization in practice. Romania, for instance, is in transition from communism to democracy and is still outside the European Union. According to Lindahl, Turkey in particular is a big issue facing the European Union. “[Turkey] is half in Europe and half in Asia, an Islamic country but also a democracy of sorts,” he said. “The questions are what problems is it facing now? Can a giant Islamic country like Turkey really fit into Europe?”
While raising questions like these, students on the program enroll in two courses for eight credits and attend classes Monday through Thursday. In addition to classes, students attend guest lectures of local academics. Students live in dorms or nearby hotels and interact with local students who help show them around.
“It was a great experience, just to be in that part of the world,” Cheyney Dobson, a social relations and political theory and constitutional democracy junior, said of her time spent during the program last summer. Not only did the program allow students to travel within the designated countries, but students would also go on weekend trips to places such as Greece. Dobson decided to go after hearing about the program from a friend who had gone the summer before. “It opened me up to new cultures,” she said. “I can’t imagine a better study abroad.”
Going Back to Israel
Five years ago, MSU halted study abroad programs to Israel after the state department issued a warning citing the considerable violence in the area. This summer, MSU students may once again venture abroad to Israel to Hebrew University, thanks to international relations sophomore Avi Davidoff, who worked with some other students to bring the Israel Study Abroad program back to MSU.
Although Davidoff has already been to Israel four times, he said it would be a great experience to go with students from MSU. “[The program is] not just about going to school, going to school,” he said. “It’s also an opportunity to see the country and take different classes,” Davidoff said, referring to Israeli politics classes that are not offered at MSU.
To ensure safety of the students, the university has gates and guards surrounding the dorms where students will stay, and bags will be checked around campus. In addition to these measures, students are issued cell phones so that the university can easily contact them in case of an emergency.
“A lot of students are interested in Israel as a society and culture,” Jewish studies faculty director Ken Waltzer said. “They want to study the Middle East.” Some students have also gone on the program to Israel for religious reasons, whether they’re Jewish or Christian. Waltzer, who earned a Study Abroad award from the College of Arts and Letters, said the final group of students to embark to Israel five years ago “raved about it.”
Learning from Teaching in South Africa
Coming from a small town, curriculum and teaching graduate student Melissa Rabineau said she wanted to experience something totally different from what she was used to. She had always wanted to go to Africa, and got her chance after hearing someone talk to her class about the pre-internship teaching program in South Africa. Rabineau was able to spend last summer teaching in a rural South African school in the town of Richards Bay. [south africa 1]
According to Anne Schneller, a specialist in international studies in education, students between graduation and beginning their teaching internships can get six master’s credits in South Africa, working and living with the family of a cooperating teacher for five to six weeks.
In addition to spending time in South African classrooms, Schneller said students on the program attend field trips and lectures, and interact with people in education in South Africa to achieve a more in depth understanding of the education system, as well as challenges that affect the education system – like economics and the prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS. [south africa 2]
While learning about the education system and teaching techniques, participants also have the opportunity to help the community of Richards Bay. Each participant brings a suitcase of books for the school library and also engages in community projects, like planting trees on school grounds, painting a first grade classroom and starting a low-price snack shop for students.
Rabineau’s experience not only helped her personally but professionally as well. This year she is teaching in a Fennville middle school because of her trip last summer. \”Without a doubt, the trip got me a job,\” said Rabineau.
Broadening Horizons in Ghana
Anyone not in the teacher certification program can still experience the magnificent continent of Africa, and the powerful effects of poverty by traveling to Ghana. “I don’t think they have any idea what to expect,” said Connie Currier, the coordinator for international programming, about the six-week multidisciplinary perspective summer program in Ghana. In the program, students earn four credits for either interdisciplinary studies in social sciences or journalism, as well as two nursing credits. The nursing credits are available to all students and focus on Western and traditional health care beliefs.
According to Currier, students perform a community diagnosis by interviewing villagers and also learn why diseases in a developing country like Ghana persist as they witness chickens and goats running around a compound, the spread of droppings and people using bushes instead of toilets. They also learn why the villagers don’t go to the clinic, taking into account preferences of traditional healers over doctors, their attitude toward the clinic and a general lack of money.
The big buzz words in health care these days are \”cultural competence,\” said Currier. She believes the program in Ghana helps students achieve this competence. “I don’t know how you can gain that kind of awareness if you haven’t been in that kind of setting.”
In addition to health care, the program teaches the background of Africa and Ghana with field trips to museums, cultural centers and to Kakum National Park. Students earning journalism credit spend three days interning in local newspapers and radio stations.
Currier said coming to Ghana enables students to develop a better understanding of why people do certain things within a particular culture, whether it\’s in Ghana or the United States. “[It] makes [students] look at the world differently,” she said. “That’s the value of study abroad – to question your values.”
If you’re interested in any of these programs and would like to know more, go to

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