GLOBAL EDUCATION PREPARES STUDENTS TO ENGAGE
LIESL SMITH’S TOP 5 SURVIVAL TIPS FOR STUDYING ABROAD
SIT WITH WHAT STRESSES YOU OUT.
MAKE IT ALL ABOUT YOU – NOT!
Study abroad at Merrimack is upping its game.
Since the start of the 2016-2017 academic year, the program has a new director, LIESL SMITH; new offices, in the “red house” on Rock Ridge Road; and a new name, the Office of Global Education.
The changes reflect Merrimack’s commitment to more intentionally weave global education into the academic fiber of the college.
“The phrase ‘study abroad’ is associated with an older vision of what students are supposed to get out of an overseas experience,” explained Smith, who joined Merrimack last June from Gordon College, in Wenham, Massachusetts. “When students say ‘study abroad,’ they’re thinking, ‘I want to go to Florence and have a beautiful semester. I love Italian food.’ The finishing-school experience, if you will.
“We want them to view this experience as an integral part of their Merrimack education, as an extension of their academic goals for their major, their professional goals as they work their way through,”she continued. “Yes, we want that personal development, but we really want them to come out of the experience as citizens of a larger world in which they’re prepared to engage.”
This heightened academic focus is reflected in the criteria for participation: Students must have at least a 2.8 GPA; submit references from a faculty member and student affairs; and participate in an interview with the global education office, where the seriousness of their application is assessed.
Students studying abroad are encouraged to take a full course load of four or five classes—at least two or three in their major and at least one in the culture of their host country—plus an internship. They earn academic credit for those courses in which they attain a grade of C or higher. “So, there’s lots of incentive to do well,” Smith said.
In the current academic year, 64 students participated in a semester-long global-education program in one of six world cities on Merrimack’s approved list—Buenos Aires, Argentina; Dublin, Ireland; Florence, Italy; London, UK; Shanghai, China; and Sydney, Australia. Smith hopes to greatly expand both the number of participants and destination cities over the next few years.
Smith, a medievalist by training—she holds a doctorate from the University of Toronto’s Centre for Medieval Studies—knows firsthand the benefits of interacting with other world cultures. She has taught in both China and Mongolia, can speak a bit of Italian and can read German and French.
“In order to be a wise and productive member of a world in which we cannot escape our interconnectedness, we need to know how to displace our own normalcy and engage people where they are at,” she said. “And I think that takes practice. I don’t think you can do that strictly at the academic level.”